Skip to main content

Full text of "The Hellenic origins of Christian asceticism"

See other formats

























INTRODUCTION ................................. 1 


CHAPTER I. Asceticism in Early Cults ........... 6 

1. Poverty of sources, 6. 

2. Purity and pollution: necessity of purity for those who 

would approach sacred things, 8; special purity de- 
manded of priests, 8; sources of impurity, 10. 

3. Purifications, private and public, 13; in certain great 

festivals, Anthesteria, Thargelia, Thesmophoria, 14; 
ascetic rites required for purification, 19. 

4. Mysteries of Eleusis, 20; long preparation for initia- 

tion, which required purity, 21; purifications during 
the mysteries, 22; especial purity of priests, 23, 
which demanded celibacy and other ascetic acts of 
some, 24. 

5. Ideas of purity and impurity at the bottom of Greek 

asceticism, 25; cases of individual ascetics, 26. 

CHAPTER II. Asceticism in the Orphic Movement ... 29 

1. General religious development in the eighth to sixth 

centuries, 29; Dionysos, 30. 

2. Orphism, origins, 31; doctrine, 33; dual nature of man, 

35; original sin, 35; eschatology, 36; purity the goal 
of the Orphics, 37; their ascetic methods for acquiring 
it, 37; essentials of Orphic asceticism, 38. 

3. Pythagoreanism, nature of movement, 40; asceticism, 41. 

4. Empedocles, relations with Orphics and Pythagoreans, 

43 ; asceticism in his rule of life, 45. 

5. Activity of the early philosophers and sophists, 46; 

first use of the word do-^ais, 47. 

CHAPTER III. Asceticism in Plato ............... 48 

1. Recapitulation of asceticism in early Qreece, 48. 

2. Sophists and their importance for Plato, 50; aristocratic 

nature of Plato, 51; love for Athens, 51; hatred of 
sophism, 52; debt to Orphism, 53, and sophists, 54. 




3. Plato, main points in his philosophy, 55; real existence 

of ideas, 55; dual world, 56; dual man, 56; fall, 57; 
Orphic nature of doctrine, 57; progress and attain- 
ment of purity through philosophical speculation, 58. 

4. Plato's asceticism: Plato did not hate the body, 60; 

but did consider the mind much loftier, 61; philos- 
ophers should disregard things of the body, 62 ; essence 
of Plato's asceticism, 64. 

5. Platonic asceticism with later thinkers, 65. 


CHAPTER IV. Religious Asceticism 67 

1. Eeligious history of Greece after Alexander: establish- 

ment of new cults; importation of oriental re- 
ligions, 67. 

2. Continuation of asceticism in Greek cults, 68. 

3. Asceticism in oriental religions, 69; how important for 

Greek thought, 69; ascetic nature of the oriental re- 
ligions, 70; asceticism in special cults: Cybele, 72; 
Attis, 74; Adonis, 75; Mithra, 76; Isis, 77. 

4. Gnostic asceticism, 79; combination of oriental and 

Greek asceticism, 80; asceticism of great Gnostics, 81. 

CHAPTER V. Ethical Asceticism 84 

1. Else of Ethical Schools, 84; distinguished from re- 

ligions and philosophies, 85. 

2. Cynicism, (a) early cynicism, 85; renunciation of goods 

of civilization, 86; asceticism in early Cynicism, 88; 
(6) revival of Cynicism under the Koman Empire, 89; 
typical Cynics, Peregrinus, 90; Demonax, 92; Epicte- 
tus's ideal Cynic, 93; Musonius Eufus, 97. 

3. Neo-Pythagoreanism, 98; resemblance with Cynicism, 

98; Pythagorean rule, 99. 

4. Popular ascetical teachers without a school, Dion Chry- 

ostom, 99; Seneca's early training, 100. 

5. Origins of this asceticism, 101; development of Greek 

asceticism, 102; oriental influence, 102. 

CHAPTER VI. Philosophical Asceticism 104 

1. Importance of ascetic ideals in the philosophy of the 
day, 104; Stoicism: early Stoics not ascetics, 105; Posi- 
donius gives cosmological background for later as- 
cetics, 106. 

2. Seneca: typical of his age, 109; his philosophy based 

on theories of the transitoriness of things, 110; and 
the eternal value of the soul, 111; importance of rea- 
son, 112, and the soul, 112; life of philosopher opposed 
to that of vulgar man, 114; struggle required of 
philosopher, 115; baseness of body, 116; wickedness of 
world, 117; value of philosophic retreat, 118; value of 
ascetic discipline, 119; excessive austerities condemned, 
120; essence of Seneca's asceticism, 120. 

3. Minor philosophies of the period: Philo, 121; Neo- 

Pythagoreans, 123. 

4. Neo-Platonism, essence of, 124; Plotinus, 126; his ascetic 

life, 126; his philosophical doctrine: distinction of in- 
telligible and sensible worlds, 127; matter mark of 
sensible world and of evil, 128; Universal Soul in man, 
129; fall of man, 130; flight from world, 132; insuffi- 
ciency of civil virtues, 132; insignificance of worldly 
goods, 133; loftiness of intellectual life, 134; contem- 
plation and ecstacy, 135; asceticism in Plotinus, 137; 
Plotinus 's successors, 139. 




For many years, and particularly since the appearance of 
Havet's Le Christianisme et ses origines, 1 and of Harnack's 
monumental Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 2 and the pub- 
lication of Hatch's celebrated lectures on The Influence of 
Greek Thought and Usages upon the Christian Church, 3 
scholars have realized that the origins of Christianity are to 
be sought in the Greek world even more than among the Jews, 
and that the Greek philosophers were the fathers of Christian 
theology, rather than the Hebrew prophets. In recent years, 
and particularly since the advent of the twentieth century, 
large numbers of special studies have appeared in which the 
dependence of the early Christians upon the Greeks of their 
day is clearly set forth : it is shown that in their special doc- 
trines, such as those concerning salvation, redemption and 
immortality, as well as in their cosmological and moral theo- 
ries, the Christians did not differ materially from many of 
their contemporaries. Up to the present, however, no study 
has been made of the origins of Christian asceticism from 
this point of view. Scholars have, of course, been aware that 
at the period of the rise of Christian asceticism, there was a 
considerable movement in the same direction in the Greek 
world, and have correctly inferred that it exercised a certain 
influence upon budding Christian asceticism. Moreover, 
scholars have attempted at times to account for certain fea- 

1 Paris, 1872-1884. 

2 Freiburg, 1886 (1 ed.). 

3 Hibbert Lectures, 1888. 

2 1 

tures of Christian asceticism by invoking Greek parallels: 
Zeller tried to explain the ascetic movement among the Chris- 
tians of the first centuries as a survival of Cynicism ; 4 many 
years later Weingarten attempted to derive Christian mo- 
nasticism from an ascetic cult which he had found in the 
temple of Serapis at Memphis; 5 B-eitzenstein, approaching 
the subject from the point of view of comparative literature, 
has more recently shown the influence which the contempo- 
rary aretologies had upon the early stories of Christian 
monks. 6 But these writers have only dwelt upon certain 
sides of the subject: if they attempted to generalize, as Wein- 
garten did, and held that they had discovered the true and 
only source of Christian asceticism, their conclusions were 
wholly false. 7 The trouble was that there has been, up to 
the present, no rounded picture of the asceticism of the Greeks 
at the time, and consequently when scholars noticed resem- 
blances between early Christian ascetics and the Cynics, or 
the recluses of the Serapeum, or some other special cult, they 
at once concluded that they had found the source of the 
Christian ascetic movement, for they completely ignored the 
other Greek forms of asceticism then prevalent. It is the 
purpose of the present study, then, to attempt to draw such 
a picture of Greek asceticism as will enable others to see to 
exactly how great an extent the Christians were dependent 
upon the Greeks for their ascetic ideas and ideals; it is the 
intention to give a rounded picture of Greek asceticism in the 
various forms in which it appeared at the time of the spread 
of Christianity. But no attempt will be made to show how 
these ideas were transferred into Christianity, or to write of 
early Christian asceticism : that would be too large a subject, 

* Eclecticism, p. 303. 

s Der Ursprung des Monchtums in nachconstantinischen Zeitalter (1877). 

Hellenistische W under erzahlung en (1906). 

i For a scholarly criticism of these various theories, though from an 
orthodox Catholic point of view, see Leclercq, in Dictionnaire d'Arche- 
ologie chretienne, art. ' ' Cenobitisme. " 

for it would require a careful study, not only of Greek asceti- 
cism and early Church history, but also of Judaism and the 
many oriental religions which were prevalent in the Koman 
Empire ; it is impossible to maintain that all Christian asceti- 
cism was of Greek origin. But it seems that by this collec- 
tion of material for the strictly Greek asceticism in the Ro- 
man Empire, a contribution will be made to a future History 
of the Origins of Christian Asceticism. 

Though, as has been stated, there is as yet no rounded pic- 
ture of Greek asceticism, the subject is not a wholly new 
one. In recent years a number of scholars have been study- 
ing the subject, particularly in its early and more primitive 
phases ; these scholars have quite succeeded in breaking down 
the old classic theory of Greek life which taught that there 
was no place for ascetic rites in Greece, at least in the pre- 
Hellenistic period. It used to be said that in Homeric days 
the land was filled with fighting nobles who found only the 
greatest pleasure in life and war, who had no time for pessi- 
mistic or melancholy thoughts, and whose religion was one 
of joy and gladness, giving no place to other- worldliness, and 
that in later times this same optimistic world-view continued ; 
therefore the Greek people are to this day associated by many 
persons with all that shows harmony, serenity, reasonable- 
ness and joy in life. It may very well be the case that 
Greek thought and religion were characterized to an eminent 
degree by just these qualities but they were not the only 
ones. After the recent studies of a large number of scholars, 
including Miss Harrison, 8 Earnell, 9 Wachter, 10 Fehrle, 11 
and others, the old view, represented by Zockler, 12 who dis- 
missed Greece with a few pages in his general history of 

s Prolegomena to the Study of the Greek Religion (1903). 
The Evolution of Religion (1905) ; Cults of the Greek States (1896- 

10 Reinheitsvorschriften in griechischen Kult (1910). 

11 Die Tcultische Keuschheit im Altertum (1910). 

und Monchtum (1898). 

asceticism, is now completely untenable. These scholars 
have made it perfectly clear that ascetic tendencies did exist 
in Greece from very early times, but they too give only par- 
tial pictures of Greek asceticism: they have concerned them- 
selves only with the early and so-called primitive religions 
of Greece. Wachter and Fehrle, to be sure, whose studies 
are little more than compilations of Greek texts and inscrip- 
tions, have covered the later periods, too, but their works give 
none of the higher developments of Greek ascetical thought. 
But it is just these higher developments that are important 
for the student of early Christianity, for it was with them 
particularly that the early Christians came in contact. Up 
to the present, these higher developments have not been 
studied at all. In the present study, therefore, attention will 
be directed particularly to them. As they cannot be under- 
stood without some knowledge of the forms out of which they 
evolved and upon which they rested, it will be necessary to 
devote an introductory chapter to the asceticism of the early 
cults ; but as these lower forms have already been well stud- 
ied, this introductory chapter will be based largely upon these 
other studies. These primitive forms of asceticism consti- 
tuted the substratum upon which later development was 
based, though they remained almost unaltered during the 
whole course of Greek history: in the closing period of the 
Greek world, Jamblichus shows that ideas were then preva- 
lent which are also found in the early stages of Greek history ; 
therefore a strictly chronological study is not essential, and 
the leading ideas may be illustrated from authors in the 
various periods of Greek history. At a very early date, 
however, development upon these elementary notions did be- 
gin ; in the second chapter, therefore, attention will be devoted 
to these developments, particularly as found in Orphism, 
Pythagoreanism and some of the early philosophers. In the 
third chapter a careful study will be made of the asceticism 
of Plato; it will be seen that his thought upon the subject is 

merely an exquisite exposition of the doctrines developed by 
his more obscure predecessors. These three chapters will 
constitute the first and introductory part of the study; they 
will set forth the essential elements contained in Greek as- 
cetic thought. The second part of the study will be devoted 
to the different phases of the asceticism of the later Hellen- 
istic age, which was contemporary with early Christianity. 
This second part is therefore the central part of the study, 
but it will readily be seen that a knowledge of the earlier 
period, and particularly of the thought of Plato, is absolutely 
indispensable to an understanding of the later part. Also 
the influence which Plato had directly upon many Christians, 
such as Origen, was very great. 



In taking up a study of early Greek asceticism, it must be 
constantly borne in mind that the literary sources for this 
side of the Greek religion are not all that might be desired. 
Homer has nothing to say of asceticism, and very little to say 
of purifications in general. 1 This silence is probably due in 
part to the fact that Homer represents a different set of reli- 
gious ideas than those contained in the Minoan religion; 
Homer was Aeolic, or Indo-European, but it seems that most 
of the rites of this purifying nature were of Ionic, Attic, 
Minoan origin. 2 At a later period, Aeschylus did take up 
this tradition and spoke considerably of purification, which, 
as will presently appear, is at the basis of all asceticism, but 
he never carried his ideas to ascetic extremes. The other 
classic authors have even less to say on the subject: a few 

1 Gilbert Murray has supported a contrary view in his Eise of the 
Greek Epic, pp. 123-4, pointing to the fact that Homer's heroes let 
their hair grow long during the siege of Troy, and, referring to the 
unquestionable Jewish parallel custom, he assumes that this was "the 
visible sign of various abstinences," including one from women. But 
Andrew Lang, in his World of Homer, pp. 132ff., denies any such ab- 
stinences, showing that the Greeks let their hair grow long all the time, 
and did not abstain from women during the siege. "Homer knows 
nothing of taboos." 

2 Lang, p. 134: "These rites (of purification) are Ionic, Attic, and, 
in historic Greece, are Hellenic, also Asiatic. They make an inseparable 
barrier between Homeric and Ionic religion. ' ; 


hints can be picked up from the other dramatists and the 
orators, but that is all. Nor is this surprising when we re- 
member that this literature was written largely to entertain ; 
if too much were said of sin and punishment, of pollution, 
purification and penance, it would be disagreeable and out of 
place here. It should be remembered, therefore, that the 
classic Greek literature gives only one side of the Greek reli- 
gion and this is not the side which interests the present 
study. Recent epigraphical discoveries have opened up a 
mine of new materials for the student of the Greek religion, 
but unfortunately most of the inscriptions which have been 
published are of late date: very few indeed which relate to 
this subject antedate the fifth century, while the majority 
come only from Hellenistic times. The study of ancient 
vase-paintings, too, has shed much light upon new phases of 
Greek religious life and thought. But after all, one of the 
main sources of information for the early Greek cults remains 
the writers of the Alexandrian period. Antiquarians of this 
epoch are the ones who have passed down most of what is 
known of the early Greek religion. The early Fathers of 
the Church, too, such as Clement of Alexandria, have pre- 
served much valuable material. But the difficulties under 
which the Alexandrians worked are obvious. All that they 
could possibly know was the cults as they existed in their 
time ; the persistency of such cults is well known, however, 
and it is extremely probable that they continued to exist 
for many centuries without undergoing any fundamental 
change. In the case of the Fathers of the Church, it must be 
remembered, too, that they were trying to show how foolish 
such beliefs and practises were, and consequently they were 
not very sympathetic observers ; but on the other hand, it is 
also a fact that they were writing for pagans who were well 
acquainted with all these things, and must have known that 
if they misrepresented them too violently, they would merely 
discredit themselves with their readers. 


But taking the materials as they are given, let us see what 
ascetic tendencies we can find in early Greece. 

From the earliest times of which there is any record, the 
Greeks possessed certain ideas of purity which they expressed 
by the word a<yvela y and of stain, which they designated by 
pfao-pa, and of purifications which one so polluted had to 
undergo, and which were called KaQap/jioi. Now, if anyone 
wished to enter a temple, or perform a sacrifice, or, in fine, 
enter into relations of any sort whatsoever with the gods, he 
had to be pure (ayvds). Thus Hesiod said, " being purified 
and pure, offer sacrifices to the immortal gods " ; 3 inversely, 
Homer made some one say, " I am afraid to pour out strong 
wine to Zeus, while having unwashed hands." 4 Moreover, 
everything connected with the act had to be pure. Thus 
Achilles purified the cup before pouring a libation to Zeus. 5 
The things sacrificed had to be pure. Euripides made Iphi- 
genia say to her brother, whom she had been ordered to sac- 
rifice, " we shall say that it is not permitted to sacrifice you 
to the goddess, as you are not pure." 6 Plutarch remarked 
that " a thing to be sacrificed must be pure in both body and 
soul, and be unharmed and uncorrupted." 7 The whole 
thing is well summed up in an inscription coming from 
Astypalaia : " No one may enter the temple who is not pure." 8 

Injunctions of purity were particularly strict for priests. 
Exceptional purity was demanded of those who entered the 
temple every day and who handled the sacred things; they 
had to take unusual care not to pollute themselves. 9 In the 
first place, they had to keep away from forbidden things, 

3 Op. 336f.: K<x5 5' epSeiv Up Mavdrouri 0eoi<riv ayvws teal Ka6apu>s. 

* 11. Z 266f . : Xepo-i 5' avlTrroiaiv Atl Xe^etv at6oira olvov <5tfo/*at. Cf . Hes. 
Op. 724. 

5 II. H 228. 

Eur. IpJi. Taur. 1035ff. : 'flsov flouts <reX^o/uej'#vetj'0e . . . ovKa6apbv'6vra. 

i Plut. de def. orac. 49. 

8 ['E]s rb lepbv (JLTJ tfftpireiv 8<rri$ fj,rj ayv6s fort. Numerous other texts are 
given in Th. Wachter, Eeiriheitsvorschriften in griechischen Kult, esp. 1. 

Wachter, pp. 12ff. and passim. 

such as corpses, but that was not all : a life of complete purity 
was required. Thus Plato, in the Laws, said that one chosen 
priest should be scrutinized " first as to whether he is of 
sound body and legitimate birth; and in the second place, 
in order to show that he is of a perfectly good family, not 
stained with homicide or any other impurity in his own per- 
son, and also that his father and mother have led a similarly 
unstained life." 10 Pausanias said of the priests and priest- 
esses of Artemis Hymnia in Orchomenos, " they are required 
not only to be pure from sexual intercourse and other things 
during their whole lives, but they do not have baths and other 
like things, nor do they enter the houses of individuals." 11 
The ancient interpreters of the oracle at Dodona, the Selloi, 
were apparently forbidden to sleep in beds or wash their 
feet. 12 The Greeks were particularly insistent upon the 
sexual purity of priests. There were innumerable cults 
which demanded the absolute chastity of the priest or priest- 
ess; sometimes this obligation was extended to others who 
were not priests, but who had some function to perform in 
the cult notwithstanding. Apollo, having charge of purity 
himself, was supposed to be particularly careful about this 
matter. He was supposed to inspire Pythia by entering her 
through the sexual organs, wherefore absolute chastity was 
required of her. 13 Cassandra was another of his virgin 
priestesses; 14 others are mentioned in Thebes and Epirus. 15 
Virgin priests and priestesses are also mentioned for Diony- 
sos, Herakles, Zeus, Artemis, Athene, etc. 16 It is therefore 
obvious that priests had to be doubly careful to keep away 

10 Plat. Leg. VI 759c. 

11 Paus. VIII 13, 1. 

12 C. H. Moore, Greek and Roman Ascetic Tendencies, in Smyth, 
Harvard Essays on Classical Subjects, p. 102. 

is Origen, c. Cels. VII 3. 

i* Eur. Troad. 41ff. 

is Paus. IX 10, 4; Aelian, Nat. An., 11, 2. 

is Cf . Fehrle, pp. 75-126. 


from polluting things : at times, this led to a veritably ascetic 
mode of life. 

Certain of the Olympian gods were thought to have special 
care for purity. In Pallas Athene we find a goddess who 
concerned herself with all sorts of interests, and especially 
with intellectual ones, and who was a virgin and pure. Vir- 
gins were placed under her protection, 17 and she was even 
called "the Pure" and a the Purifier." 18 In the cult of 
Apollo particularly, attention was given to purity, as was 
just pointed out ; this was because it is he who had charge of 
all things connected with purity, 19 as his very name shows. 
Liddell and Scott say that he was called Phoebus because of 
the purity and radiant beauty of youth; Miss Harrison re- 
marks that the epithet has more to do with purity than radiant 
beauty. The root of the word meant " in a condition of cere- 
monial purity, holy in a ritual sense." 20 Plutarch says, 
" the ancients, it seems to me, called everything that was pure 
and sanctified Phoebic, as the Thessalians still say, I believe, 
of their priests when they are living in seclusion apart on cer- 
tain prescribed days that they are living Phoebically." 21 

ITow just what did this purity consist in ? What was it 
that made one impure ? Wachter gives an immense number 
of texts, taken from the Greek authors and inscriptions, 
which show the sorts of things which polluted a person. 
With the single exception of murder, none of the things for- 
bidden are what we would call moral faults at all : they are 

17 Herod, iv, 180. 

is 'Ayvd, Schol. ad Ar. Nub. 967; Ka^o-ios, Aesch. Eumen. 578. 

is But it is not true that Apollo was always a perfect model of purity 
himself; cf. Eur. Ion, 436ff., where he is roundly denounced for his 
"misdeeds" and told that if he does not reform he will not have money 
enough to pay his fines. 

20 Harrison, p. 394. 

21 Plut. de El apud Delph., xx, 1 : (froifiov dt drj TTOV TO Ka.6a.pbv K.CU ayvbv 
ol iraXaiol irav wvb^a^ov &>s crt Qe<r<ra\oi rot/s ieptas kv rats airo(t>pa,(Ti.v -f)/j.pais 
afarotis t<p eavruv cw diarpiftovras of/iwu <t>oifiovoij.i<r6a.i \kyovai. cf. Harrison, 
p. 394. 


merely ritual faults; they are quite similar in character to 
the taboos of the most primitive peoples known to us to-day. 
The causes of pollution given in Wachter's work are (1) child- 
birth; a woman lying-in was impure, as were all who came 
in contact with her, the child, and even the house ; in some 
cases this impurity lasted for forty days, and special rites 
were required for purification; (2) a woman during men- 
struation was impure; (3) certain diseases, especially in- 
sanity, demanded purifications; (4) a corpse was impure, as 
was anyone who approached one ; a man had to purify him- 
self after attending a funeral, while certain priests could not 
be present at one at all; (5) every murderer was impure, not 
only because of the approach to a corpse, but also, as 
Wachter maintains, 22 through the /uW/*a of the soul of his 
victim, which followed him; (6) certain animals were im- 
pure, so that their flesh might not be sacrificed or eaten; in 
different cults, swine, goats, sheep, cattle, horses, asses, deer, 
dogs, birds, fish, etc., were taboo and in others all flesh food 
was forbidden; (7) in some cults, certain vegetables were for- 
bidden, such as beans, lentils, garlic, onions, mallows, mint, 
apples, ivy, myrtle ; also wine ; ( 8 ) iron or bronze could not 
be brought near to certain sanctuaries, nor gold to others. 23 
Of course, all these things were not forbidden to all Greeks ; 
many of them were confined to a few small cults. Neither 
were they all contemporaneous. All that can be said is that 
some cult has been found in Greece at one period or another 
which regarded these things as taboo, or as they said, #709. 

But even here, one of the most important sources of pollu- 
tion is not mentioned: in fact, this source was so important 
that it could not be grouped with the others, but had to be 
treated in a separate volume. This is the pollution arising 

22 Wachter, p. 64; cf. Rohde, Psyche, I 264, n. 2; 275, n. 2; II 78, n. 1. 

23 Large numbers of texts illustrating the nature of these taboos will 
be found in Wachter, op. cit., pp. 25-118. See also, Solomon Reinach, 
Mythes, Cultes et Religions, I, pp. 24ff. Encyc. Eel. Eth., art. " Birth," 
"Animals," etc. 


from sexual intercourse, which is dealt with in Fehrle's com- 
panion volume on ritual chastity. 24 The regulations in re- 
gard to this were due to a vast variety of causes, including 
not only such important points as the theories in regard to 
the organization of the family, but also the wide-spread belief 
that the union of men, and particularly of women, with the 
divine was effected by this means (for examples, Pythia and 
several of the mysteries 25 ) and that persons who had been so 
honored, or who aspired to being so honored, must abstain 
from such unions with mortals. But it is also undeniable 
that from the earliest times, the act was held to be polluting, 
even in wedlock. 26 Purifications were required in certain 
cases before a person so polluted could assist at any religious 
ceremony; even purifications could never completely wash 
away the stain, however, and for certain rites it was neces- 
sary to have little girls so young that there could be no ques- 
tion of their absolute purity. 

If one inquires more carefully into the exact manner in 
which these things were supposed to be polluting, he finds that 
ideas in regard to evil spirits were invoked to explain it. 27 
These evil spirits were in early times thought of as little 
winged sprites which fluttered about and were always anxious 
to attach themselves to people; if they ever succeeded, their 
unhappy host was sure to be not only polluted, but also 
afilicted with disease and other woes untold, until they were 
driven off again. Sickness was a sign that a person harbored 
such evil spirits, which probably explains the injunction, 
mentioned above, forbidding sick persons to enter a sanc- 
tuary. So he was doubly unfortunate, and sometimes the 

24 Die Tcultische Keuschheit im Altertum. 

25 Cf. Origen, c. Cels. VII 3; Diodorus, XVI 26; Fehrle, pp. 7ff. 
WTad(t>po8l<riaiuaivci t Porph. de Abst. IV 20. Hesyeh., s.v. ayvetciv. 

Ka.BapTL)iv cbr6 re &(j>po5i<rlo)v K.a.1 dirb pe/epoO. Cf . Hes. Op. 733ff . Fehrle, ch. ii. 
27 See Wachter, pp. 2ff.; Fehrle, pp. 34ff.; 42ff.; Harrison, Prolego- 
mena to the Study of the Greek 'Religion, eh. iv; Bouche'-Leclercq, in 
Diet, des Antiq., art. ' ' lustratio. ' ' 


positive and material miseries thus occasioned loomed up 
larger than the alienation from God. At the very end of 
Greek history, Porphyry, while discussing these spirits, wrote, 
" because of them are purifications, not for inducing the pres- 
ence of the gods, but in order that these things may keep 
away." 28 But it is certain that possession by these spirits 
also prevented men from approaching sacred things. How- 
ever, the exact way in which the pollution was explained in 
the mythology is not so important for the present study as is 
the belief that it existed, and had to be washed away. What 
were the methods by which this was accomplished ? 

In some cases, it was very simple : mere washing was suffi- 
cient. Thus, a basin of water was placed at the entrance to 
the temple, 29 in which all who entered were supposed to wash 
themselves; if their stains were not very great, this is all 
that was demanded. In other cases, washing in sea-water 
was required. Thus Iphigenia tells the king that she must 
take the statue (which she is really planning to steal) and 
the two polluted prisoners to the sea to wash them and thus 
rid them of their pollution. 30 We shall presently see that 
one of the great ceremonies of the Eleusinian mysteries was 
the "AXaSe fivarai^ in which all the participants purified 
themselves in a lake of salt water. Sometimes the water of 
mineral springs was supposed to have purifying virtues supe- 
rior to those of ordinary water. 31 On certain occasions the 
person or object to be purified, instead of being washed, was 
merely sprinkled with water; branches of laurel or olive 
trees were used for this purpose, just as the holy-water 
sprinklers are used in the Catholic Church to-day. In case 

28 Porph. de philos. ex orac. haur., p. 149 (quoted by Euseb. Praep. 
Ev. IV 23, 3), Kal 5iet TOVTO al ayveiat, oft 5tcb TOI>S 6eotis irpoa"r)yov(ji.vus } dXX' lv 
oDrot diroffTUHri. The whole fragment is very important. 

29"Waehter, p. 7; Diet, des Ant., art. ' ' lustratio/ ' where pictures of 
such basins are given; cf. art. "labrum." 

30 Eur. Iph. Taur. 1193 : 0d\a.(r<ra /cXtffei irdvra ravdpAiruv /ca/cd. 

si Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie- und Beligionsgeschichte, p. 888. 


a more thorough-going purification was deemed necessary, 
this could be accomplished by fire; it was done by fumiga- 
tion, frequently with sulphur. 32 On other occasions purifi- 
cation was brought about by contact with very pure things ; 
laurel branches were used for this purpose in the cults of 
Apollo, and olive in those of certain chthonian deities; some- 
times the blood of a pig was used for this purpose. 33 

Such were the sorts of purifications which were demanded 
of individuals in case they became contaminated in any way. 
Just as the pollution had been individual, the purification 
was individual ; the polluted person might require a little aid 
in the ceremonies, but that was all; the purification was 
strictly an individual matter. However, there were other 
occasions when the purification was collective : all of the citi- 
zens of the community took part and were purified together. 
In such cases the pollution was not traced to the fault of any- 
body, but seems to have been due rather to the general wear 
and tear of time ; at certain times of the year it was felt that 
a general cleaning up and driving out of all evil spirits was 
desirable, so special rites were performed with this end in 
view. One such time was the early spring or late winter, 
just as the new life was beginning. Another was the time 
of the harvest (which comes in May and June in Greece). 
A third was the autumn. At each of these times there was 
a great public ceremony, and though purification was not 
always its only, or even its most prominent motive, elements 
of this nature were always to be found, and were in all prob- 
ability the most primitive part. Thus in the Greek month 
of Anthesterion (= February), came the Anthesteria, which 
was paralleled among the Romans by the ceremonies in con- 
nection with the februa, or purifiers (whence our word Feb- 

32 The Greek word for sulphur is deiov, and is therefore identical with 
the word for divine, but this is accidental; it is supposed that the word 
is related to 0tfw, sacrifice. See Liddell and Scott, s.vv.; II. II 228; 
Od. x 481. 

33 Aeschyl. Eumen. 283, 458ff. 


ruary). Later, when the harvest was at its height came cere- 
monies such as the Thargelia. Finally as the year was 
dying came the Thesmophoria. In all of these feasts there 
were elements of purification, though in classic times these 
were frequently overlaid with a mass of other rites. In her 
Prolegomena to the Study of the Greek Religion, Miss Harri- 
son has been able to show that the primitive idea back of all 
of these was purification and the placation of demons. A 
consideration of these festivals is well worth our while, there- 
fore, especially as their cleansing nature has been so fully 
established by Miss Harrison that we can base our study 
upon hers. 34 

The Anthesteria was a feast to Dionysos. It lasted for 
three days, the llth to the 13th of the month, which three 
days were known as Pithoigia (cask-opening), Choes (cups) 
and Chytroi (pots). The three days were given over to 
drinking, revelling and rejoicing, so that at first sight every- 
thing seems to say that it was a simple wine festival in honor 
of Dionysos. Nevertheless a certain note of sadness ran 
through the whole ceremony, which should lead one to pause 
to ask if it was really such a simple merry-making. An old 
proverb preserved by Suidas strengthens this doubt, and 
gives the clue to the real interpretation of the feast. We are 
told that to those who were constantly demanding a repetition 
of the favors formerly received, one said, " Get out, Keres, it 
is no longer Anthesteria ! " Keres is the Greek name for the 
little sprites of which we have already spoken as causing ill- 
ness, etc. Suidas, who preserved the proverb, says that " in 
the Anthesteria, ghosts are going about the city." 35 This 
shows us that originally the Anthesteria was an All Souls' 
Day. The scholiast on Aristophanes quotes Theopompos, 

34 Prolegomena, etc., ch. 2-4, pp. 32-162; cf. Diet, des Ant. and 
Pauly-Wissowa, Eeal-Encyclopddie der Tclassischen Altertumswissenschaft, 
under the various feasts; A. Mommsen, Feste der Stadt AtTien. 

35 Suid. S.v. /c^pcs, ofo w ' Av0<rT^pta } o>s Kara, T^V ir6\iv TOIS 


who said that at this feast they sacrificed to Hermes Chtho- 
nios. 36 The lexicographer Photius, explaining the words 
luapa vpepa, "day of pollution," says that such a day oc- 
curred "in the day of Choes in the month of Anthesterion, 
in which they believed that the spirits of the dead rose up 
again. From early morning they used to chew buckthorn 
and anointed their doors with pitch." 37 Buckthorn was a 
purgative, and would therefore drive out of the body whatever 
evil spirits might be there; 38 as pitch was especially pure, 
it would prevent their coming into the house. The Anthes- 
teria, then, was primarily a festival of purification from 
spirits, and more especially, the spirits of the dead. The 
whole performance was but one example of a general form 
of rite to which the Greeks gave the name eva^/ia-pos^ which 
was intended to remove the stain of blood from a man and 
thus purify him : the methods used were washings of one sort 
or another, and sacrifices ; each had the positive effect of puri- 
fication. 39 At the bottom of this great festival of Athens, 
therefore, was the idea of pollution and purification; as we 
examine others, we shall find it in them, too. 

After some months came another important festival, which 
was known as the Thargelia, and which was an offering of 
the first-fruits of the harvest. This, too, seems to have been 
a time at which purity was deemed essential, and we conse- 
quently find that a considerable part of the ceremony was 
devoted to its acquisition. Thus, Diogenes Laertius says in 
his life of Socrates that "he was born on the 6th day of 
Thargelion, the day when the Athenians purify the city." 4 

ssSchol. ad Ar. Ban. 218. 

37 Photius s.V. fuapdi i)/dpa' kv rots Xovcrlv ' AvdcffTypiuvos fjirjvfa, tv < SOKOVVIV 
al \f/vxo.l rQ>v TeXcvTirja'dvTajv dvitvcu, pd/Avq) %b)6ev /Aa.<ru>t>TO Kal TT^TTTT? rets Qtipas 

38 Porphyry speaks of evil spirits which ' ' creep into those making 
use" of impure things (eiVSi/yoj/res ro?s x/aw^ots), de phil. ex orac. haur. 

39 For these tvayurfjial iu general, see Harrison, pp. 55-76. 

40 Diog. Laert. ii 4. 


They did this through persons known as <f>apnatco{ : Harpo- 
cration remarks, " at Athens they led out two men to be puri- 
fications for the city; it was at the Thargelia; one was for 
the men and the other for the women." 41 The way they did 
this was to take some person, and by ritually heaping all the 
impurities of the city upon him, to make a scape-goat of 
him: he was pelted and driven out of the city, and the im- 
purities went with him. The scholiast on Aristophanes says 
that " the pharmakoi purified the cities by their slaughter," 
and then goes on to say, " for the Athenians maintained cer- 
tain very ignoble and useless persons, and on the occasion 
of any great calamity befalling the city, I mean a pestilence 
or anything of the sort, they sacrificed these persons with a 
view to purification from pollution and they called them 
purifications (KaQdpna-ra) ," 42 For the details of this cere- 
mony, we are indebted to a very late author, Tzetzes (A.D. 
1150), who incorporated fragments of Hipponax, of the 
sixth century B.C. He says, "they gave him cheese with 
their hands and a barley cake and figs, and seven times they 
smote him with leeks and wild figs and other wild plants. 
Finally they burnt him with fire with the wood of wild trees 
and scattered the ashes into the sea or to the winds, for a 
purification, as I said, of the suffering city." 43 Whether or 
not this human sacrifice was maintained in classic times, it is 
hard to say ; Miss Harrison thinks that it was, 44 but this view 
is by no means universally accepted; it may very well be 
that he was merely pelted and driven out of the city and for- 
bidden to return. At any rate, the rite is clearly one of 
purification, behind which is the same idea that is found in 
the Christian conception of the atonement: that the punish- 
ment of one may purify many from their stains. However, 
there was no idea of an angry god to be appeased, nor of a 

4i Harpocrat. s.v. 0a/>/ia/c6s . 

42,Schol. ad Ar. Eq. 1136. 

Tzetzes, Hist. 23, 726ff. 

Harrison, pp. 102ff. 



vicarious sacrifice. The whole thing consisted in loading 
all the pollutions upon the unfortunate scape-goat, and then 
driving him out of the city; naturally the polluting spirits 
went with him, and the city thus became purified. 

A third ceremony, the last which we shall study here, came 
in the fall, and was known as the Thesmophoria. It was per- 
formed by women only. Like the Anthesteria, it lasted three 
days, from the llth to the 13th of Pyanepsion (= October- 
November) ; these three days were known as the Kathodos 
and Anodos (down-going and uprising), Nesteia (fasting), 
and Kalligeneia (fair-born or fair-birth) ; on the first day 
women who had already been purifying themselves for nine 
days 45 went down into certain clefts or chasms, called peyapa, 
taking with them suckling pigs, which they sacrificed, and 
bringing up the remains of last year's pigs ; during the second 
day, these remains were exposed upon the altar, while the 
women sat about, fasting; on the third day, the rotten pig's 
flesh was mixed with seed and strewn upon the fields. The 
object of the rite is obviously to promote fertility: to this 
end there were certain other rites, in connection with repre- 
sentations of the male generative organ ; it has also been sug- 
gested that the squatting of the women on the ground was to 
permit union with a chthonian deity, which had been pre- 
pared for by their nine days of continence before and during 
the feast. 46 We are told that they put branches of a purify- 
ing and anaphroditic virtue on their beds. 47 Of especial in- 
terest is the fasting, for this is the first time we have come 
upon this popular form of asceticism. The Stoic Cornutus 
writes, " they fast in honor of Demeter . . . when they cele- 
brate her feast at the season of sowing." 48 Athenaeus men- 
tions the fast; 49 one of the Cynics says, "my friends are 

45 Ovid, Met. 10, 431. 

46 Cahen in Diet, des Ant., art. ^Thesmophoria/' 
4T PHn. His. Nat. 24, 59. 

48 Cornut. de Theol. 28 
49Ath. 307ff. 


keeping a fast as if this were the middle day of the Thesmo- 
phoria"; the fast had thus become proverbial. 50 A votive 
relief has been found showing a procession of women bring- 
ing gifts to the Earth-mother, who is crouching upon the 
ground as the fasting women did on this day. 51 The reasons 
for this fasting were undoubtedly, first, the presence of the 
rotten pig's flesh ; when so sacred a thing was present it would 
be most unbecoming to eat profane things; and secondly, if 
a worshipper did eat, she would greatly risk getting some 
evil demon on her which would incapacitate her for taking 
any further part in the ceremonies; nine days had been re- 
quired to attain the required purity, and now extra precau- 
tions had to be observed to retain it. It is remarked in the 
passage already quoted from Porphyry 52 that these evil 
spirits come at us when we eat and thus settle upon our 
bodies; 53 so if one wishes to remain perfectly pure, he had 
better abstain from eating. The two rites are obviously for 
the attainment and preservation of that ritual purity which 
is required of all those who approach sacred things. 

Thus, it appears that in three of the most important reli- 
gious ceremonies of Athens, great attention was given to 
ritual purity. It had to be acquired by means of positive 
acts, which demanded not only the time and attention of the 
person to be purified, but also entailed a certain expense (in 
case of a sacrifice) and positive renunciations ; if the purity 
thus acquired had to be maintained for any length of time, 
this could be done only through further privations and cere- 
monies. From the earliest times, therefore, there were per- 
sons in Greece who believed that purity could be purchased 
only at the price of real asceticism. 

But as yet, only isolated rites have been described. The 

so Harrison, 126ff. 

si Ibid., p. 127, fig. 12; cf. Ath. Mitt. 1899, taf. viii, 1. 
62 Supra, p. 13, n. 28. 

53 Porph. de philos. ex orac. haur. p. 149 : K ai yap naKiara rms 7roim$ 
rpo<ms -xaipovai, anovukvuv yap q/zp Trpoffiaat Kctl irpo(riai>ov<ri TCJJ 


same tendencies will be found, however, if one of the cults is 
examined in its entirety. Let us take the mysteries of 
Eleusis. 54 These formed one of the oldest cults in Greece, 
and survived as long as paganism itself survived. As they 
reach back into hoary antiquity, modern scholars have been 
led to suggest that they were perhaps a relic of the old agri- 
cultural life of the Minoan period. 55 The mysteries were 
subsequently taken under the protection of the city of Athens, 
which of course added enormously to their dignity. Their 
priesthood became more important, and their rites were so 
celebrated that they were sought by people from all over the 
world. 56 In Hellenistic times they were taken as one of the 
signs of the unity of the Greek-speaking world. Though con- 
tinuing to exist down to the very end of Greek civilization, 
they underwent but little development after the seventh cen- 
tury B.C. ; in character the rites always remained rather 

According to Isocrates, the mysteries reminded the Atheni- 
ans of the two benefits which they had received from Deme- 
ter, the goddess to whom they were dedicated : first, agricul- 
ture, and secondly, the initiation which gave a hope of a 
blessed immortality. 57 The rites had originally (if we are 
to trust modern scholars) the purpose of increasing the fer- 
tility of the land and of assuring good crops ; participation in 
them assured the participant of a happy life beyond the 

54 The best book on the mysteries is Foucart, Les Mysteres d' Eleusis 
(1914). Cf. Harrison, pp. 540-572; Diet, des Antiq. (art. "Mysteres," 

ss Foucart, eh. iii, and pp. 248ff. 

es Foucart, pp. 263ff . ; Diet, des Antiq. 

57 Isocr. Panegyr. 28 : [A^juTjrpos] 6060-775 Scopeds Sirras aiwep neyio-Tm rvy- 
X&vov<riv ovffai, TOVS T KfxpTTovs, ol TOV fJ.Tj &r]pi(i)8&s T)V i7JuSs OUTIOI yeybvaai,, 


alowos r]8lovs rds kXiridas exovviv. Cf . Hymn, in Cer. 4802 : 6X/3ios, os Tad 
oiraiirev eirix&ovi&v a^pcoTraw* os 5* dreX^s tepcoi>, os r aju/iopos, oviroi? o/xoiajr 
ctlactv % 0??tpi'6s xep UTTO 6(f>( rjepoevTt.. Cf . Aristoph. Ban. 154-8, 448-459 ; 
Soph, apud Plut. de And. Poet. 4; Cic. Leg. II 14, 36; Diet, des Ant., 
art. "Eleusinia" VIII, "Les mysteres et 1'autre vie." 


grave. The ceremonies consisted in a dramatic representa- 
tion of the myth of Demeter. 

There are two points in which these mysteries are of in- 
terest to us, first, the purity required of all who sought initia- 
tion, and secondly, the higher purity demanded of the priests 
during the period of the great mysteries. 

Only those were admitted to the initiation who had under- 
gone a certain preparation. In the first place, those wishing 
to be initiated had to go through the " lesser mysteries " be- 
fore they could be admitted to the greater; in the course of 
these preparations, the candidates were purified and washed 
in the Ilissos Kiver. 58 As this was done at the end of the 
month of Anthesterion, it was over six months before the 
definite initiation took place. When the second part, or the 
Grand Mysteries, arrived, the preparation was continued. 
First the candidates were instructed in the myth of Demeter, 
without a knowledge of which the rites would be unintelli- 
gible ; as this was kept a profound secret by the mystics, only 
those who had been initiated knew it. A certain interpreta- 
tion of the myth was also taught. But the main point was 
the ritual preparation, which was much more complicated 
and rigorous than anything we have yet seen. At the very 
beginning the herald forbade "whoever does not have clean 
hands." 59 Before this the candidates had been observing a 
fast which purified their hands; for several days they had 
taken no form of food, so long as the sun was in the heavens. 
There was a myth that while seeking her daughter, Demeter 
had refused all food and drink for nine days, and it was sup- 
posed to be in memory of this that the mystics fasted ; how- 
ever the myth is clearly aetiological, that is, it was invented 

58 Polyaen. Strat. V 17: T&V 'lXi<r<r6j>, ou rdv Kodapubv reXoOo-t rots eXArroat 
AiwrTTjpiois. Schol. ad Ar. Plut. 845 : Ian rd fjuicpa [pvarripia] &<nrcp TrpoKadctp- 
<m Ktxi Trpoayvewns rCav nfy&Xuv. 

59 The exact formula is preserved by Theon of Smyrna, p. 22 : T d nif 

ti ' 6<ms rets x*ip a $ A") KCtdap6s. 


afterwards to explain the rite, and not vice versa. 60 They 
were especially strict about certain foods; the mystagogues, 
or teachers, were constantly saying, " If you eat this or that, 
you are not pure/ 761 Among the things specially forbidden 
were a kind of shark (7aXeo?), mullet (epvdplvos}, crayfish 
(icdpapos), a certain sea-fish, "black tail" (pekdvovpos), red 
mullet (rpfy\r]); at least some of these were foods especially 
sought after by the Greeks of the fourth century. 62 But for 
a variety of reasons, they were held to be impure, so could 
not be eaten by those who wished to be pure. 63 

It was on the 15th of Boedromion that they assembled at 
Eleusis, and the herald made the proclamation mentioned 
above. On the following day took place the most important 
rites of purification, which went under the name of " a\a$e 
fjivo-Tai" " to the sea, mystics," the shout which accompanied 
the principal ceremony. The mystics, who had returned 
from Eleusis the day before and were then at Athens, went 
and purified themselves by washing in the sea, and by sacrific- 
ing a pig previously purified by immersion in the sea. The 
blood of these animals was considered a most powerful agent 
of purification, for it was thought to attract all the evil spirits 
irresistibly and to hold them. 64 Each person had to have a 
pig of his own; thus the purification was individual, but 
being performed simultaneously by the whole group, was the 

eo However, Foucart (p. 284) here as always insists that the mytho- 
logical interpretation is the true one. Of course he is correct in saying 
that they explained their fasting by the myth; but the real reason why 
they fasted was because it was customary, and because they thought 
that the act gave positive virtues, etc.; they later invented or adapted 
the myth to explain their acts. 

i Cf . Liban. Corinth, p. 356 : nal i8la TTO.\LV TO A TOV nai TOV j el rovSe 
^yeuerco, ov Kadctpos irapei, Ktxl TroAXi) TOVTOV irapa rots juuerrafycoyoTs eTrtjueAeia. 

2 Foucart, p. 287. 

es Thus the shark was thought to be impure because it laid its eggs 
by the mouth, the black-tail because it ate disagreeable food which other 
fish did not eat; on the other hand, they abstained from red mullet 
because of its fecundity, which they honored, etc., cf. Foucart, p. 285. 

e* Foucart, p. 294. 


more powerful. The bodies of these pigs were then burnt 
and the ashes scattered. During the fifth century, a feast in 
honor of Asklepios was introduced into the ceremony which 
retarded the return to Eleusis by two days. As the purity of 
the participants had to be maintained all this time, unusual 
precautions were necessary. The mystics could not appear 
in public, but shut themselves up in their houses, giving them- 
selves over undoubtedly to fasting and abstinences; it was a 
veritable retreat. 65 

It has been inferred by some, from the aetiology of the 
Homeric Hymn to Demeter, that there were other rites of 
purification, at least for children, which consisted in passing 
through fire ; but there is little positive evidence for this. 66 

A further point which has been urged is the meaning of 
the word mystery itself. The ancients related the word to 
fjLvco, " I shut my eyes and ears and lips," so mysteries were 
things secret and not talked about. However, Miss Harrison 
suggests a better derivation. She connects it with the word 
/iuo-o?, a pollution, and makes the " mystery " a ceremony of 
purification from pollution. Lydus makes the same sug- 
gestion : " mysteries," he says, " are from the taking away of 
a pollution (pvcros) as equivalent to purification." 67 At any 
rate, it is clear that purification was an essential element of 
the mysteries. 

In addition to this purity of those to be initiated, there was 
a higher grade which had to be attained by the priests. 
Arguing from a passage in Pausanias, some have maintained 

s Foucart, p. 295 ; Aristot. Constit. Ath. 56. 

ee Harrison, pp. 156ff . ; F. B. Jevons, Introd. to the Hist, of Eel., ch. 
xxiv app. 

67 Harrison, p. 154. Lyd. de mens. IV 38: nvvTrjpia &ir6 TTJS vTepfaews 
TOV nv<rovs &vrl Trjs ayioarvvrjs. Cf . Clem. Al. Protr. ii : nwTrjpia . . . CLTTO TOV 
o-uju/Se/SrjKoros ircpl TOV kibvvaov nvaovs. " 'Mysteries' (ought to be de- 
rived) from the pollution relating to Dionysos." Cf. Eur. Suppl. 470: 
\vaavTct (reuva VTCHHCLTUV and El. 87 : 


that an absolute celibacy was required of them. 68 We have 
already seen that similar demands were made upon the 
priests and priestesses in various other cults, but it is 
not certain that it was an absolute demand in this case. 
Quite the contrary, we have an inscription from Eleusis 
which is the dedication of a votive offering raised to a hiero- 
phant by his wife. 69 This came from the first century B.C., 
so if Pausanias is right, the celibacy requirement is a later 
addition. What is more probable is that continence was im- 
posed upon the priests for the period of the mysteries only. 
At any rate, it is clear that at least this much was required, 
so we may say that a special purity was demanded of the 
priests. 70 These special restrictions for the clergy are better 
shown, however, in the class of priestesses known as the 
iepeicu Travayefc. The few literary sources which we have 
show us that they were celibate and lived in common. 71 A 
story of the legendary epoch depicts them united in a banquet 
after the sacrifice. 72 When the sacred objects were taken 
from Eleusis to Athens, it was they who carried them during 
the crossing of the Bheitan lakes, according to a decree of 
421. 73 On other circumstances, they were associated with 
the hierophant and under his direction, as during the proces- 
sion of the Kalamaia. 74 At Eleusis they dwelt in houses 
belonging to the Two Goddesses (Demeter and Kore) and 

8 Speaking first of other mysteries, he says (II 14) : lepo^avr^ Se OVK h 
rbv fttov Travra diroSeSencrm, Kara 8e Ka<rTr}v reXer?)? aXXore kanv aXXos afyiaiv 
alpr6s, Xaju/Savcoj', fjv et?eX#, Kal yvvouna. Kal ravra 8ia<f)opa r&v kv 'EXewu/t 
po/ufown, TO. 8e es avrfiv rr\v TeXcvTrjv eKtlvcov tariv cs p-i^fftv. 

69 'lepo^avlrrjv] Mez/efcXleiS?^ Beo^/iou Kv8]adi)vaita vj yvvfj. Bull, de COTT. 
Tiellen., 1895, p. 128; Foucart, p. 173. 

TO Cf . Arrian. Dissert. Epict. Ill 21 : ofc fadrjTr) cxs, rjv Set TOP lepo^av 
rr)p, . . . ovx fjyvfVKas o>s emws. ("Ayvos here is castus). 

T I Hesych. : Tlavayeis ' ' Adf]vr]<ri iepeuxi ' Itpeia ^rts ou niayerai avSpi. Bek- 
ker, Anecd., p. 212 : 0,705 Kal TO rlniov Kal aiov o-e/SdorAiaroj e^ ou at icpetat 
bvayeis Kal ayr) TO. nvffTJjpia Kal aXXa TIV&. p. 330: e ou Kal iepetai Travaycls. 

73 Demo, f rg. 1, in Didot, F.H.G. I 378. 

73 Ath. Mitt., 1894, p. 163. 

7* C. I. A. IV, p. 122. 


were supported at their expense. 75 They were not ordinary 
priestesses, but rather resembled a religious community de- 
voted to the Two Goddesses. Some have recognized in them 
the Bees (MeXuro-ai) of which Porphyry and several gram- 
marians speak. 76 At any rate they represent the nearest 
approach to a genuinely ascetic life which is to be found 
in early Greece. 

The various facts which we have set forth are amply suffi- 
cient to prove that ideas of pollution and purity are to be 
found in the Greek religion at all the stages of its develop- 
ment. It is perfectly certain that the Greeks had the idea 
that there were some things which were incompatible with 
the gods, and which therefore could not be brought into con- 
tact with anything which pertained to the gods. And not 
only were they incompatible with the gods themselves, but as 
this characteristic of theirs was to a high degree contagious, 
nothing which had been in close contact with them could ap- 
proach sacred things either, without a preliminary purifica- 
tion. Now when this idea is once firmly established we have 
the foundation of all asceticism : the sole end and aim of the 
ascetic is to keep himself as free as possible from all these 
pollutions, and to be constantly purifying himself from those 
which he has incurred in spite of all his precautions. To 
this end, he removes himself as far as possible from the 
sources of pollution, he "flees the world," and gives himself 
over to prayers, fasts, vigils and other purificatory exercises, 
in order that he may remain pure, and approach as nearly as 
possible to the divine. But this definition would tend to 
make all men ascetics; the injunctions which we have been 
observing were applicable to all alike: if their mere ob- 
servance makes men ascetics, the whole population of ancient 
Greece would consequently have been such. 'Now as will be 
seen in the course of this study, there actually is a certain 

75 C. I. A. IV, p. 203, 1. 81 : Els rds iepte oldm rais kpei'ms 
fflFoucart, pp. 214f. 


asceticism immanent in the whole religious life, but it would 
undeniably be an abuse of language to carry the point to this 
extreme. The practical distinction is this : all men are pol- 
luted from time to time and must be purified all men sin 
and must do penance, to put it in Christian terms but the 
great majority are not especially scrupulous about the matter, 
and if the great stains are washed away, and a fair average 
of purity is maintained, they are content to let it go at that ; 
but some persons are more careful, and are not content with 
this average purity; they want to raise themselves to a still 
higher degree of purity, and therefore submit themselves 
to all sorts of extraordinary penances and abstinences; 
these are the veritable ascetics. We have found examples 
of these, too, and we have observed some primitive cults in 
which it was required that there be certain persons who main- 
tained a state of purity above that of ordinary people. We 
are justified in saying, therefore, that these persons were 

In the first place were the priests, for whom there were 
extraordinary regulations in regard to purity, and especially 
in regard to chastity : we might say that the priests who lived 
up to these regulations were ascetics, for by acts of renuncia- 
tion and abnegation, they sought to attain a purity higher 
than that with which the ordinary person was content. The 
Eleusinian mysteries, too, tended in this direction, for not 
everybody was initiated ; those who were did it because they 
wished to be unusually pure, and because special rewards, in 
the form of immortality, were promised to those who attained 
to this degree of purity; we have also seen the ascetic ele- 
ments in the rites conferring this purity. Finally there can 
be no doubt of the genuinely ascetic nature of the restrictions 
placed upon the Eleusinian priesthood, and particularly upon 
the priestesses known as the lepeicu Travayeis : here we have 
the essential features of a veritable monastic life. 

Other cases of early Greek asceticism are sometimes men- 


tioned. Thus Herodotus and Pindar mention a certain 
Abaris, a Hyperborean, who is said to have gone all around 
the world on an arrow, fasting; 77 later writers associate him 
with Pythagoras/ 8 so there may have been other ascetic 
features to this performance; his fasting may have helped 
give him the supernatural power required for such a feat. 
Another celebrated ascetic of early times was Epimenides, 
who purified Athens in the latter part of the seventh cen- 
tury; 79 his fasts and his general ascetic form of life are told 
by Diogenes Laertius and others. 80 But none of these men 
added anything new: they are merely further examples of 
what we have already seen, and only serve to make more 
certain our contention that ascetic tendencies existed in 
Greece from the very earliest times. 

As to the origin of these ascetic tendencies we can say 
almost nothing. In his recent work on the mysteries of 
Eleusis, Foucart has argued that the rites were introduced 
into Greece from Egypt. 81 One of his proofs of this is their 
asceticism, which he compares with that of the devotees of 
Isis and Osiris; he even claims that fasting was a rite un- 
known to other early cults in Greece (he includes the Thes- 
mophoria with the Eleusinian rites, as being in honor of 
Demeter). 82 So it may be that this cult, with its fasts and 
its asceticism, was introduced from Egypt; but in any case, 
the introduction took place very early (at least fifteen hun- 

77 Herod, iv 36 ; Find, f rg. 270. Cf . Plato, Charm. 158b, where he is 
mentioned as a wonder-working physician. Eeferences in later litera- 
ture are numerous. 

78 Jamb, de Vit. Pythag. xix 91. 

7 Or perhaps the end of the sixth; cf. Pauly-Wisowa, s.v. 

so Diels, Frag, der VorsoJcrater, II, pt. i, pp. 489ff. ; esp. 490, 11. 16ff., 
492, 25ff., 493, 4ff.; Bohde, Psyche, II 96ff.; W. Capelle, Altgriechische 
AsJcese, in Neue Jahrbticher fur das Tdassische Altertum, 25 (1910), 
p. 683. 

si Foucart, Pt. I; cf. Harrison, pp. 120ff.j this was the belief of the 
ancients themselves, Herod, ii 171. 

sz Foucart, pp. 62ff. 


dred years before Christ according to Foucart), so we may 
say that it was a part of the religion of Greece at the earliest 
period with which we are acquainted. It, and the other 
forms of asceticism which we have signalized, were a part 
of the Greek religion from the very start. 

But really there is no occasion to point out a specific origin 
for all these forms of asceticism, since they all are to be found 
in practically every known religion. Wachter and Fehrle 
give numerous citations from secondary works establishing 
parallel rites and beliefs in other religions. The asceticism 
which we have been describing shows remarkable similarities 
with that found in the most primitive peoples of whom we 
have any knowledge. 83 

Nor does it make the slightest difference to the present 
study what their origin was. As has already been clearly 
stated, this chapter is merely introductory; it is intended to 
summarize the work of previous scholars who have made 
special studies of early Greek religion. Their conclusions in 
regard to the origin and interpretation of these rites have 
been mentioned in passing, but it cannot be emphasized too 
strongly that the remainder of our study does not depend in 
any way upon the truth or falsity of these -conclusions. All 
that this chapter has sought to establish is that at an early 
period, the Greeks had very decided notions of purity and 
pollution, and that from these, they deduced a theology which 
at times demanded genuinely ascetic acts. If this has been 
established, as we believe that it has, the foundation is laid 
for the higher developments of ascetic thought among the 
Greeks, which is the subject of the present study. 

sa Cf. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of ihe Religious Life, Bk. 
Ill, ch. 1, pp. 299ff. (Eng. tr.). 



The facts which we have been discussing so far all originate 
in the most primitive and ancient form of the Greek religion, 
which we can know. But though primitive, they did not 
pass away with primitive Greece; on the contrary, they re- 
mained as a substratum of the Greek religion throughout the 
course of its history. As Greek society advanced, however, 
the religion naturally developed also. And about the eighth 
century, such an advance did begin to be noticeable. At this 
time began the period of commercial expansion and coloniza- 
tion. The Ionian cities and particularly Miletus took the 
lead, but others in Greece proper came close behind. Thus, 
the relative isolation of former times was broken down to a 
certain extent, and the intelligence of ordinary men was 
raised; an extensive reorganization of society then became 
necessary, above all in the intellectual world. 1 This social 
movement also had its effects upon the Greek religion. Ac- 
cording to Gruppe, an oriental mysticism entered Greece at 
this time. 2 New cults arose, and old ones were transformed. 
At this time, too, the religion became more diversified ; with 
the larger number of cults, different sorts were offered, and a 
person could choose, to a certain extent at least, the one to 
which he would give his closest allegiance. Thus, some peo- 
ple developed the religion of the Olympian gods, but there 
were others who were not satisfied with this. The old long- 
ing for purity remained in their hearts, but their old rites 

1 For this general movement and its repercussions upon philosophy 
and religion, see Eduard Meyer, Gesch. des Altertums, II, Bk. 3, pp. 
533-762; Busolt, Griechische GeschicMe, I, ch. 2, pp. 127-509. 

2 Gruppe, Gesch. der griech. Mythologie, I 72. 



could no longer satisfy it nor could Olympus, in spite of its 
glorious splendors. So a new religious movement came over 
Greece in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., which was a 
continuation and revival of the old native religion, and also 
a development upon it. " The essence of the new religion 
was the belief that man could become god: the new ritual 
feature it introduced, a feature wholly lacking in the old 
uneaten ' sacrifice, 7 was mystical communion by eating the 
body of the god. But as man was mortal, there was mor- 
tality to be purged away; and hence, although with a new 
faith and a new hope, men reverted to the old ritual of puri- 
fication." 3 

The first representative of this new religious movement to 
appear in Greece was the religion of Dionysos. Though there 
may have been an old Greek god of somewhat the same nature, 
the real Dionysos cult seems to have been introduced into 
Greece from Thrace, between the ninth and sixth centuries. 
In Thrace, the cult was adapted to the wild and savage nature 
of the country and its people, and had a highly orgiastic char- 
acter. It was celebrated upon the mountains at night, in 
the midst of burning torches, tumultuous music and loud 
cries ; the rites were performed mostly by women, who danced 
and revelled thus until they, like the Mainads whom they 
impersonated, became quite beside themselves. Being wholly 
unable to account for this extraordinary madness which thus 
seized them, they attributed it to the god; he was thought 
of as " insane." 4 

When the cult was introduced into Greece, it was long a 
scandal ; the more sober Greeks did not at all approve of their 
women carrying on in such a way on the mountains at night. 

s Harrison, Prolegomena, p. 162, cf . p. 478. 

*For the Thracian rites of Dionysos, see Bohde, Psyche, II, ch. i-ii. 
Foueart, Le Culte de Dionysos en Attique, in Memoir es de I' Academic 
des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres (1904), ch. 2; and the articles on 
"Dionysos" in Pauly-Wissowa, Eoscher and the Dictionnaire des An~ 
tiquites. The references to Dionysos in classic writers are collected in 
Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, V, pp. 280-334. 


But gradually the rites became softened and toned down; 
Dionysos became civilized. He became associated with wine 
(undoubtedly because of the similar effects of these two forms 
of inspiration) and presently found himself one of the most 
popular gods of Greece. The details of his cult do not inter- 
est the present study, for it hardly seems probable that this 
ecstatic religion of a wine god should be of importance for 
the development of ascetic ideals. This was not entirely the 
case, however. For its rites led its worshippers to believe in 
an external god, with whom it was possible for an individual 
to unite himself: the Bacchantes felt the god within them, 
they believed themselves inspired. This led to the develop- 
ment of several beliefs in regard to the possibility of union 
with god, sacraments, and the immortality of the soul, all of 
which were put to use by later ascetical theologians. 5 But 
the chief importance of the Dionysos cult for the present 
study lies in its later developments, particularly Orphism. 
Here there was real asceticism. 

The origins of Orphism are by no means clear, but one 
thing at least seems certain, namely, that it was born of the 
religion of Dionysos, and in fact, was a higher spiritual devel- 
opment of it. Legend had it that, like the religion of Diony- 
sos, Orphism originated in Thrace. Ancient and modern 
writers, however, have suggested various other sources : some 
have noticed resemblances with Egyptian practices; others 
with the mysteries of Samothrace ; some have claimed Phryg- 
ian or Cretan origins ; a connection with Pythagoras has been 
claimed by others; while if we are to take the word of the 
early Christians for it, Orpheus derived practically all his 
doctrine from the books of Moses. 6 There is probably a cer- 
tain element of truth in all of these conjectures except the 

8 For the influence of Dionysos, see also Capelle, in Neue Jahr'b'b. f. Td. 
Altertum, 25 (1910), pp. 684ft 5 . 

References to authors who have supported these views will be found 
in Monceaux, in Diet, des Antiq., art. ' ' Orphici. ' ' 


last; in the course of their evolution, the Orphics probably 
did adopt elements from all of these various sources. But 
during the early stages of the history of the sect, these were 
all so well assimilated and adapted to the needs and desires 
of the Greek people that the religion was in no way a foreign 
one, but was so thoroughly Hellenic in its nature that some 
have been led to deny a foreign origin at all. This is, how- 
ever, an untenable position ; modern scholars are pretty gen- 
erally agreed upon the Thracian origin of Orphism. 7 

Tradition had it, too, that the religion was founded by 
Orpheus. The legends concerning this singer were numerous 
and varied, but they do not concern us here, any more than 
the much-disputed question of the historical existence of 
Orpheus does: it makes little difference to us whether he 
really existed, as Miss Harrison has recently maintained, or 
whether he did not, as others, since the days of Aristotle, have 
held. 8 The first literary references to Orphism are in Iby- 
cos (c. 560) and Pindar (c. 490) ; 9 during the latter half of 
the sixth century the earliest Orphic books known were 
composed or collected. 10 So we can state that during 
the sixth and following centuries the Orphic cult spread 
throughout Greece, and then proceed to what is the important 
thing for us, namely, that Orphism was a religion seeking 
consecration or the attainment of divine life, that it laid the 

7 Ancient authors who held this opinion include, Strabo, p. 330 ; 
Herod, ii 81; Eur. Hippol. 953; Apollod. I 3, 2; Diod. Ill 65; Plut. 
Alex. 2; Procl. In Plat. Eemp. p. 398; Macrob. Sat. I 18, 17; In Somn. 
Scip. I 12, 12. 

Cic. De nat. deor. I 38, 107: Orpheum poetam docet Aristoteles 
numquam fuisse, et hoc orphicum carmen Pythagorei ferunt cuiusdam 
fuisse Ceropis. This text may signify that Orpheus never existed or 
merely that he was not a poet; the former is the interpretation gen- 
erally accepted. See also Gruppe, in Lex. d. griech. u. ro'm. Mythologie, 
art. "Orpheus" and Monceaux, in Diet, des Antiq., art. "Orpheus" and 
"Orphici"; Harrison, pp. 470ff. 

Ibyc. fr. 9 Bergk; Pind. Pyth. IV 716 (315). 

id. s.v. 'Op<pe6s;Clem. Al. Strom. I 21; Paus. I 22, 7; etc. 


greatest emphasis upon purity and purification and upon the 
blessed immortality to which they led, and that to this end 
a mode of life which was, theoretically at least, far more 
ascetic than anything which had yet appeared in Greece was 

It is in these doctrines that we are able to see the connec- 
tion and also the profound differences between this religion 
and that of Dionysos. Both worshipped the same deity ; both 
shared in beliefs which were not universally held by the 
Greeks ; Orpheus passed as a reformer of the Dionysiac reli- 
gion. 11 But "in the whole Church of Dionysos-Bacchos, 
the Orphics formed a mystic Church, an elite of the devout, 
for whom the essential thing was doctrine, purity of life, and 
preparation for death and future existences." 12 Therefore, 
though Orphism was born of the religion of Dionysos, the 
two were also very different. Nothing shows this better than 
the nature of the cult. While the worship of Dionysos en- 
couraged tumultuous and ecstatic manifestations, the Orphics 
adopted the contrary attitude. In an inscription discovered 
on the Acropolis are preserved the rules of an Orphic sect; 
among the rules we read that "within the place of sacrifice 
no one is to make a noise . . . but each is to say his part 
in all quietness and order,' 7 and, moreover, if anyone does 
make a disturbance, he is to be taken out. 13 The Orphic cult 
was "a worship fair and orderly." 14 With the Orphics, the 
things of highest importance were doctrine and the observance 
of an ascetic life; as we shall see, their doctrine was a real 
contribution to the history of Greek thought, having had an 
enormous influence upon no less a thinker than Plato, and 
the mode of life which followed as a result of this doctrine 
was destined to no less important a role in subsequent his- 

11 Diod. Ill 65. 

12 Monceaux, loc. cit., p. 248. 

is The inscription was published in Ath. Mit. xix (1894), p. 248. 
i*Cf. Harrison, p. 476. 



tory. As the whole formed a unified system, we must begin 
by a brief examination of the general theology of the Orphics. 
The sources of our knowledge of Orphic doctrine are vari- 
ous, and of varying value. The best source is the literature 
which was produced by the sect; large numbers of poems, 
either cosmological, theological, mythological or liturgical, 
were written during the one thousand years which separated 
the fourth century A.D. from the sixth B.C., of which three 
complete works and numerous fragments still remain. 15 
During the course of its history, Orphism was greatly influ- 
enced by various contemporary movements of thought, and 
unfortunately most of the literature which we now possess 
comes from the very end of the whole development. But on 
the other hand, the value of these late poems as illustrative 
of earlier thought has frequently been too greatly depreciated : 
several years ago a number of tablets of very thin gold were 
discovered in tombs in southern Italy, dating from the fourth 
or third century before our era, and inscribed with Orphic 
teachings; 16 previously these doctrines had been known only 
from writings coming from the fourth century A.D., so at 
a stroke their antiquity was augmented by 700 years. These 
tablets are our most important source for the earlier Orphism : 
as they were buried with the dead, the information they im- 
part is chiefly eschatological, but there is much that is litur- 
gical, and in either case, they well illustrate Orphic thought. 
In addition to these and the earlier portions of the Orphic 
poems, we have several passages, either expressly or obviously 
referring to Orphic beliefs and practices, in contemporary 
Greek literature. So taking what sources we have, let us 
attempt a brief sketch of Orphic theology. - 

is The three works are the Argonautica, Lithica and the Orphic 
Hymns; the fragments have been collected by Abel, Orphica (Leipzig, 
1885) and Vari, Nova Fragmenta Orphica (Wien. Stud. XII, p. 222). 

is See the textual discussion of these tablets by Gilbert Murray, in 
Harrison, Prolegomena, appendix, pp. 660-674. 


To begin with, we must say that " the Orphic philosophy 
undertook to give an answer to the two great questions which 
tormented the Greek mind after the sixth century : an explana- 
tion of the world, and the destiny of man. On the one hand, 
the Orphics gave a cosmological and theological system, and 
on the other a metaphysical doctrine of the soul. 7 ' 17 Into the 
details of their theogony and cosmogony it is not necessary 
for us to enter; it is sufficient to say that the earliest forms 
of these doctrines did not differ markedly from those of 
Hesiod on the same subject. In general, the whole thing, 
both theogony and cosmogony, is very confused, and it is 
hardly worth our while to attempt to unravel it. 

Their anthropogony, however, is more important, for in 
this a belief fundamental to later asceticism, the dual nature 
of man, is very clearly stated. According to the myth, 
Dionysos was a favorite son of Zeus, but one day when he 
happened to be in the form of a bull, he was caught and torn 
to pieces by the wild Titans, themselves of divine ancestry, 
who thought to gain dominion over the world thus; 18 his 
heart alone was saved, which Zeus ate and presently brought 
forth a new Dionysos. But the Titans had to be punished, 
so Zeus destroyed them with his thunderbolt. From their 
ashes men were made. So to this day men are of a double 
nature: on the one hand they, like their ancestors, are of 
divine origin, but on the other hand, they are descended from 
the wicked Titans, and their forbears' sin is upon them. 
Like the Christians centuries later the Orphics believed, there- 
fore, in the original divinity of man and in his fall, and in 
the doctrine of original sin. Pindar speaks of this fault as 

IT Monceaux, loc. cit., p. 249. 

18 The part which the old Dionysiac rite of tearing a bull asunder and 
eating its raw flesh, the Omophagia, had in the development of this 
myth has been shown by Miss Harrison (p. 495). The Orphic could 
not bring himself to give up the old savage rite of daubing himself 
with white clay and eating raw bulls, but he did invent a new myth to 
explain it and give it a high spiritual significance. 


the 7ra\(uov TreVtfo? ; 19 Jamblichus refers to it as the 
dfjuapTrj/JLara. 20 Before their fall the Titans had lived with 
the gods, but as a result of their sin, their descendants were 
exiled from this blissful abode, and condemned to terrestrial 
life. Though they retained their souls, the symbol of their 
divinity, a body was forced upon them, too, which is the sign 
of their fallen nature, and, as it were, the prison of the soul 
(body = <r> pa ; prison = o-fjfjia ) , 21 

The soul, thanks to its divine nature, is immortal, and the 
hope is held out to it that it may at length regain its original 
state. The Orphic eschatology shows this very clearly. In 
the Orphic tablets and the " Nekyia " in the eleventh book of 
the Odyssey (which was clearly of Orphic origin 22 ), we have 
descriptions of the other world as they imagined it. In the 
latter, we read of the punishments of notorious sinners, such 
as Tantalus and Sisyphus; in the former we find directions 
for the pure as to how they are to proceed. Both from the 
tablets and other early Orphic literature it is evident that 
the two main features of their eschatology were the ideas of 
future rewards and punishments for acts committed in this 
life, and that of the transmigration of souls. If one strives 
earnestly to regain the primitive purity, he will succeed at 
last, and will then dwell forever in some Happy Isles, or 
perhaps in heaven itself; but until that time, he is doomed 
to pass from body to body, even entering animals. If his 
deeds during life are good, he will have a better host next 
time, but if they are bad, his next abode will be much worse. 

i Fr. 110 Bergk. 

20 Pro*. VIII 134. 

21 This idea is referred to the Orphics in Plato, Cratyl. 400c; cf. 
Phaedr. 62b; Procl. In Plat. Eemp. 372; Jambl. Prot. VIII 134. The 
dual nature of man is illustrated by the Orphic tablet which makes the 
soul say, upon arriving in Hades (tr. Gilbert Murray, in Harrison, op. 
cit., p. 661) : 

"I am a child of Earth and Starry Heaven; 
But my race is of Heaven alone." 
22Dieterich, NeTcyia, pp. 75ff. 


This made up what they called the " circle of generation " ; 
everyone should try to escape it and enter the Happy Isles, 
and the way to do so is to follow Orphic teaching. 23 Those 
who have read the early church Fathers will see that Origen, 
in his great work, de Principiis, did little more than copy 
this; nor was the influence of Orphic theology upon early 
Christians confined to Origen alone ; its influence, direct and 
indirect, upon the development of Christian theology, was 
immense. 24 

These two ideas were fundamental to Orphic theology : the 
primitive purity and subsequent fall of man, and the possi- 
bility and desirability of regaining this purity; these were 
the ideas which were at the basis of their entire rule of life, 
and we shall see that this rule was a genuinely ascetic one. 
So purity was their goal, but how did they seek to attain it ? 

In the first place, all who wished to be pure had to have 
themselves initiated. Those who had been initiated called 
themselves the " Holy Ones " or the " Pure Ones " : initiation 
by itself gave purification. After death those who had been 

23 These beliefs are well summed up in three of the Orphic tablets 
found at Compagno, which give the formula to be spoken by a "pure 
one" upon reaching Hades. Murray reconstructs the formula as fol- 
lows (L c., p. 670) : 

"Out of the Pure I come, Pure Queen of Them Below, 

And Eukles and Euboleus, and other Gods and Demons: 

For I avow me that I am of your blessed race. 

And I have paid the penalty for deeds unrighteous, 

Whether it be that Fate laid me low or the Gods Immortal 

Or ... with star-flung thunderbolt. 

I have flown out of the sorrowful weary Wheel; 

I have passed with eager feet to the Circle desired; 

I have sunk beneath the bosom of Despoina, Queen of the Under- 
world ; 

I have passed with eager feet to (or from) the Circle desired; 

And now I come a suppliant to Holy Phersephoneia 

That of her grace she may receive me to the seats of the Hallowed. 

Happy and Blessed One, thou shalt be God instead of Mortal. ' ' 
2* See Dieterich, Nelcyia, Beitrage zur Erlcldrung der neuentdeckten 
Petrusapofcalypse (1893, 2 ed., 1913). 


initiated would receive a fairer fate than others, even in case 
they did not succeed in attaining heaven; while awaiting a 
new incarnation, they would enjoy a privileged lot in Hades. 
However, initiation by itself was not enough; it was also 
necessary to perform other purifications and fasts, to fulfil 
certain rites and follow a special regimen, and more than that, 
personal piety was also essential. 

In describing the efforts of the Orphics to attain purity, we 
may begin by quoting two very important passages from Eurip- 
ides. The first is a fragment of his lost Cretans, preserved 
by Porphyry ; some one says : 

" Kobed in pure white, I have borne me clean 
From man's vile birth and coffined clay, 
And exiled from my lips alway 
Touch of all meat where Life hath been." 25 

The second is less sympathetic ; Theseus denounces the Orphic 
Hippolytos for his self -righteousness, crying : 

" Now is the day ! Now vaunt thee, thou so pure 
No flesh of life may pass thy lips ! Now lure 
Fools after thee ; call Orpheus King and Lord, 
Make ecstacies and wonders ! Thumb thine hoard 
Of ancient rolls and ghostly mysteries." 26 

Another illuminating passage is found in Aristophanes's 
Clouds, in which the comedian deliberately parodies the 
Orphic mysteries. Old Strepsiades seeks Socrates, and finds 
him suspended in a basket that he may be free of earthly 
things and give himself over entirely to heavenly ones ! 27 

In these three passages the essentials of Orphic asceticism are 
observable : on the one hand, purity is sought by pure clothes, 
by keeping away from contaminating things and by eating cer- 

25 Tr. Miss Harrison. 

26 Eur. Hipp. 952ff. tr. Harrison. 

27 Ar. Nub. 223ff. That this scene parodies Orphic ritual is shown 
by Dieterieh, Eh. Mus. 1893, pp. 275ff.; Harrison, pp. 512ff. 


tain foods only ; on the other is the more far-reaching proposi- 
tion that all matter, and all material and worldly things are 
impure and consequently to be avoided. In the first place are 
the same old taboos which we have already found in primitive 
Greece : Herodotus tells us that the Orphics could not wear, 
or at least could not be buried in woollen clothes; 28 we read 
that eggs were forbidden them ; like many other persons, they 
were careful not to pollute themselves by eating beans. 29 But 
even more important was their aversion to all flesh; this is 
explained by their belief in the transmigration of souls, which 
led one to believe that he might be eating a departed friend 
if he tasted meat. In all of these things, however, they dif- 
fered from the other Greeks only in degree; the great con- 
tribution of the Orphics was their doctrine by which they 
rationalized these performances. By their depreciation of 
the body and of all matter generally, and by their emphasis 
upon spirit and mind and their divine nature, 30 they drew a 
sharp distinction between the real world and a spiritual world 
which they imagined ; by their teaching of the infinite supe- 
riority of the latter in fact, that the former had been created 
merely as a punishment for sin they prepared the way for 
that " other-worldliness " which occupied so great a place in 
the religion of Europe for centuries to come. They clearly 
taught that the world was bad, and that if one would seek true 
and eternal felicity, he must forsake it, he must keep himself 
as pure as possible from this world of death which is a prison- 

But their practice was not so rigorous as their teaching. 
They never went to the extremes of the Buddhist and Chris- 

28 Herod. II 81. 

29 SetXot, irav8ei.\a, Kva^uv ATTO xeipas t\eadai. This sentiment is attrib- 
uted by different authors to various persons, especially Pythagoras and 
Empedocles, but by some to Orpheus; see Diels, Frg. d. VorsoTc. I 214, 
no. 141. 

30 Cf. Proel. ad Cratyl. p. 82: 6 kv vovs ALOVVO-ICXKOS tanv Kal aya\fj.a 



tian ascetics, even though they did share their doctrine; ab- 
stention from flesh food was their most rigorous self -mortifi- 
cation. They fled the world in theory alone, and were conse- 
quently called hypocrites by some. 

NOT was there, in a strict sense of the term, such a thing 
as an organized Orphic sect. There was a body of Orphic 
doctrine, whose limits were always vague and floating, and 
there were, in various parts of the Greek world, persons or 
groups of persons who accepted this doctrine, making more or 
less of an attempt to live according to it. But organized sect 
there was none: the doctrine, partly philosophical and sci- 
entific, partly theological and ascetical, the chief thing which 
actually existed. So Orphism was never so popular as the 
religion of Dionysos; according to the testimony of Plato, 
there were numbers of disreputable parsons who attached 
themselves to the movement and went around selling " puri- 
fications " and other quacks of one sort or another, but in the 
main Orphism appealed only to an elite. 

Closely associated with Orphism was another movement of 
a very similar character, Pythagoreanism. This doctrine was 
founded by Pythagoras, who lived in southern Italy. It is 
said that he had been profoundly interested by Orphic 
thought, and it is certain that his system of speculation does 
present many points in common with Orphism. Chief among 
these are the doctrines of the transmigration of souls and 
asceticism, including abstinence from all flesh and beans. 
But Orphism knows nothing of the mathematics which was 
so important for Pythagoras, and it is doubtful whether the 
Orphics ever achieved an organization comparable to that of 
the Pythagoreans. 

In regard to the doctrines of the early Pythagoreans, we 
are even worse off than for those of the Orphics : practically 
all we know of them is derived from writers who lived in the 
time of Christ or later (while Pythagoras lived five centuries 
before) and whose ideas were greatly influenced by the 


Pythagoreans who flourished during the first centuries before 
and after the Christian era. By this time, ascetic thought 
had undergone a tremendous development in the Hellenistic 
world ; also at this same time everybody was most anxious to 
attribute his ideas to some very ancient person. Conse- 
quently the various lives of Pythagoras merit little confidence. 

But from the earliest sources still preserved, it is clear that 
the Pythagorean movement was largely religious. Its pur- 
pose seems to have been to give its members a more adequate 
satisfaction of their religious desires ; it was for the " culti- 
vation of holiness." 31 Also, it appears that Pythagoras 
"desired to effect, chiefly by the aid of religion, a reform 
of the moral life." 32 To this end, he developed still further 
the old idea taken over by the Orphics from the devotees of 
Dionysos, and taught that " men are in the image of God." 33 
He made a rule of life, 34 which his followers should observe, 
and which has been summed up in the frequently quoted 
words TTOV Oew ; 35 to follow God and become like him is 
Pythogoras's highest ideal. 36 

In this rule of life, asceticism played a considerable role. 
Of course all that the Neo-Pythagoreans attributed to their 
hero is not to be accepted as historically true; these reports 
are frequently contradictory, as when Diogenes Laertius says 
in one place that he " knew neither love nor drunkenness," 
and a few pages later speaks of his wife. 37 One of our early 
authorities, Aristoxenos, is even quoted as saying that he 
preferred beans to every other vegetable; 38 but his prohibi- 

3i Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, p. 97. 

32Zeller, Philosophy of the Greeks to Socrates, I 355. 

33 Themist. Or. xv 192b : driva irpbs dedv elvai d^pwTrovs. = Clem. Al. 
Strom, v 55. 

s* Plato speaks of Pythagoras as the originator of a656sns/3uw,.Kep. X 

ssplut. de And. I 37; Clem. Al. Sir. v 390D. 

se Plut. de Supers. 9, 169. 

37 Diog. L. viii 19 versus 42. Cf . Clem. Al. Str. iii 435c. 

**Apud Gell. iv 11, 5. 


tion of them is so well attested that this statement must be 
set aside, unless, as has been suggested, there was a sacra- 
mental meal, to which Aristoxenos is confusedly referring, 
in which the sacred vegetable was solemnly eaten; but there 
is no other evidence for such a sacrament. In general, the 
things which Pythagoras tabooed were things which the 
Orphics had tabooed before him: in this side of his teaching 
he merely follows them, as is implied by Herodotus in the 
passage already quoted. 39 But from numerous passages in 
the Middle Comedy, it is evident that in the fourth century 
before Christ, there were plenty of people who practiced 
asceticism in his name. 40 

We 'have seen that the Orphics devoted considerable atten- 
tion to speculation upon the world, and even to developing a 
philosophical theology. The Pythagoreans too devoted them- 
selves to such speculations from the very first. It is not 
necessary to describe their elaborate number-philosophy here : 
Zeller has conclusively shown that the later ideas in regard 
to the One being God, spiritual and good, and the Dual being 
material and bad, do not date from the earliest times. 41 
However, in the emphasis which they laid upon speculation 
(in which they followed and developed upon the Orphics), 
the early Pythagoreans did contribute to the development 
of ascetical thought. Pythagoras divided men into three 
classes, the ^XoVe/oSefc, or lovers of gain, the 0iXo'/*oi, or 
lovers of honor, and the ^tXoVo^ot, or lovers of knowledge; 42 
of these, only the last were really lofty persons. He also 
taught that scientific, and especially mathematical study is 
the best purifier of the soul ; it is a means of escape from the 
"wheel." This idea runs through all the rest of Greek 
history, constantly developing, until we get to such persons 

39 Herod, ii 81. 

40 These are collected in Diels, Frg. d. Vorsolc., pp. 29 Iff. 

41 Zeller, Op. ait., p. 397. 
42Diog. Laer. viii 6. 


as Apollonius of Tyana, who regarded themselves as suc- 
cessors of Pythagoras, and for whom the ideal wise man was 
wholly detached from the world. Early stages of this thought 
are found in Socrates, Plato and even Aristotle ; it was upon 
this feature of Socrates' s teaching that the Cynics fastened, 
and from them came the ideal of the Stoic sage and the 
Christian saint. 43 Here is the beginning of the tendency to 
turn from the things of "this world" to "higher" things, 
which is the essence of asceticism. 

There is one other representative of this general movement 
who must be mentioned here, Empedocles. He is generally 
classed as a philosopher, but only a slight acquaintance with 
his thought is sufficient to show his close relations with the 
Orphics and Pythagoreans. It is said that in his youth he 
was affected by Orphism, and that at a later period he came 
under the influence of Pythagoras; one of the fragments, 
which refers to some great man in very glowing terms, is 
supposed to refer to him. 44 At any rate, he wrote a long 
poem with the good Orphic title "Purifications," several 
fragments of which have been preserved. In this, the doc- 
trines of the fall of man, the body as a punishment, the trans- 
migration of souls, purification by asceticism, and the possi- 
bility of final reconciliation with God are clearly taught. In 
the Introduction to his poem he says that there is a decree 
of Necessity that whoever of the demons polluted his hands 
with bloodshed or strife or perjury must leave the abode of 
the gods for three thousand seasons, passing from one form of 
mortal to another; such a one the author himself claims to 
be, an exile from God and a wanderer. 45 He says else- 

43 Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, p. 89f . ; Greek Philosophy, Part I 
p. 41. 

**Frg. 129 Diels. 

45 Frg. 115: ?<TTIJ> 'A.vayKi)s XP^M 

evrk TIS &fJLTr\arji-[](ri <f>6v(? <f>i\ia yvla 
[NeiKet #'] 6s K(C) tirlopKov djuapT^eras 

oiT jLiaKpatwi'os XeXcixacri /Stow 


where " from what honor and from what length of bliss have 
I come to mortals, falling to earth," 46 and again " I wept 
and wailed upon seeing this uninhabitable land," 47 and " we 
have come into a roofed-over cave." 48 The body is an un- 
natural garment. 49 Men are in a fallen state. Closely con- 
nected with this is the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. 
" Already I have been a boy and a maiden, a bush, a bird 
and a mute fish in the sea." 50 Men are therefore related to 
animals, and the eating of flesh is consequently forbidden; 
" will you not stop this hateful slaughter ? do you not see that 
you are eating one another in your thoughtlessness ? " 51 In 
one fragment he attributes his then unhappy state to his 
having eaten flesh : " alas, that ruthless time did not destroy 
me before the abominable act of taking meat across my 
lips ! " 52 But improvement is possible, and is to be accom- 
plished by following the rule of life which he sets forth: 
" happy is he who possesses the riches of divine wisdom, but 
he is miserable to whom the doctrine is dark." 53 If people 
do follow this way of life, they shall at last " appear among 
mortal men as prophets, song-writers, physicians and princes ; 
and thence they rise up as gods exalted in honor, sharing the 
hearth of the other gods and the same table, free from human 
woes, safe from destiny and incapable of hurt." 54 

rpis HLV nvpias upas O.TTO nciKapuv 
4>vofJik.vovs TravToia 5td xP^vov eWe 
apyccXeas /Sioroto jueraXXdcrowra /ceXeu?9ous . . 
T&V Kal ey<j) vvv ei/u, 0iryds deader nai 01X17x775, 

46 Frg. 119. 

47 Frg. H8. 
*s Frg. 120. 

49 Frg. 126 : aapK&v a\\oyv&Ti TrepioreXXouo-Q; 
50Frg. 117. 
si Frg. 136. 

52 Frg. 139. 

53 Frg. 132 : 6Xj8tos, 6s $eiaw Trpairlbwv kurriffaTo TT\OVTOV, 

deiXos d' , V ffKOToevcra de&v Trepl 
5*Frgg. 146-7. 


In the rule of life which he laid down, ascetic features were 
prominent. Not only did he forbid flesh food, but he also 
placed a taboo upon beans 55 and laurel. 56 In these things he 
is merely following the model of the old injunctions for purity 
which dated from the most primitive times. But he also 
tended to put a spiritual interpretation upon some of them : 
thus he said, "Fast from evil." 57 Finally, he says in one 
of the fragments of his other poem that the four roots of all 
things are Zeus, Hera, Aidoneus (i. e., Hades) and a goddess 
named Nestis, " Fasting," " who moistens with tears the well- 
spring of mortals." 58 Diogenes explains these elements as 
fire, earth, air and water, 59 but why Empedocles raised an 
otherwise unknown goddess of this ascetic name to so im- 
portant a place is not clear, unless it be that he wished to 
emphasize the ascetic exercise whose name she bore. It has 
been suggested that she was some form of an oriental goddess, 
for example, Isis weeping for Osiris, or perhaps that she was 
connected with the Adonis myth. 60 In this case we would 
have a Greek thinker at least giving recognition to a myth 
which teaches one of the most highly spiritualized forms of 
asceticism: the doctrine of purification or forgiveness after 
mere weeping and sorrow. This interpretation of Em- 
pedocles' s remark, however, is only hypothetical. 

As we pointed out at the opening of the present section, the 
people who were interested in the movements which we have 

55Frg. 141. 
56Frg. 140. 

57 Frg. 144: pTjarevaat Ka/coTiyros. 

58 Frg. 6. Ttaaapct yap iravrajv ptfco/zara Trp&rov a/cove ' 

Zeus &pYn$ HPT; re <epe0-/3ios 776* 'AiScopeus 
NTJOTIS t? , ?; SctKpvois reyyei KpovvojfjLCt Pporeiov. 

5 Diog. Laer. viii 76: Ata nkv TO irvp \kyuv, "Hpr^v 8e rty yrjv, 'AiSovea 5e 
r6i> Upa, NrjaTiv ST) rb vdup. Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, p. 264n. 
argues that Diogenes has mixed these, and that Zeus is really the air 
and Hades fire; this seems very plausible. 

eo See Dieterich, on Hilgenfeld, Die Grdbinschrift des Aberkios er- 
Uart, in Berliner Philologische Wochenschrift, 1897, p. 394. 


just been describing were probably descended from the old 
population, and who had been able to raise their status and 
intelligence somewhat (but not too much) thanks to the eco- 
nomic developments of the seventh and sixth centuries; 
their religion was largely a continuation and a development 
of the primitive rites of purification which we described in 
the first section of our essay. But at the same time there 
were other streams of thought in Greece, to the eminent repre- 
sentatives of which the title of philosopher is generally given. 
We must not assume, however, that there was absolutely no 
interaction between the two schools: on the contrary there 
seems to have been a good deal of it. Nevertheless, it is 
generally possible to distinguish them, because after all, their 
thought was quite different, and appealed to different classes 
of persons. In Periclean times, the Orphics were not very 
high-class persons, but the sophists were. 

That this distinction was not a hard and fast one, and not 
always even a possible one, is shown in the first place by the 
fact that the early philosophers, Thales, Anaximander, 
Heraclitus, etc., were influenced to a considerable extent by 
Orphism, and that it in its turn was influenced by them, 61 
and in the second place by the fact that it is not always pos- 
sible to say which group a given man belongs to: thus we 
have classed Pythagoras and Empedocles in the " Orphic " 
group, though they are generally called philosophers, and 
other sides of their doctrine, which we have ignored, certainly 
entitle them to such a name. But in general the philosophers 
paid but little attention to the old beliefs about purification 
and fasting and asceticism; the most that they did was to 
develop doctrines which were later utilized for this purpose 
by others. Heraclitus was one of the few who did mention 

ei Bob. Eisler, Weltmantel und Himmelszelt, ii pp. 661ff., 693-706; 
Cornford, From, Religion to Philosophy, chap, vi; Kern, in Hermes, xxv 
Iff.; Diels, in Archiv f. Gesch. d. Phil, ii 91ff.; Bui-net, op. cit., index 
s.v. Orphics. 


these purifications, and what he said was "those who when 
stained purify themselves with blood do as if some one who 
had stepped into the mud should wash himself with mud." 62 
These pre-Socratic philosophers did render one service, 
however. They supplied the word asceticism. The original 
meaning of the word acr/celv ) as used by Homer, was to 
"work" or "fashion" raw materials. Thus he speaks of 
"working" wool (r]cncdv eipia, 7888) and of "worked" yarn 
(vr^ia aa-KrjTos, A134). From this was derived a secondary 
meaning, to work upon oneself, that is, to "practice" or 
" exercise " and especially to " train." Now from the days 
of Hesiod, it had been taught in Greece that virtue could 
be attained only by labor. 63 Democritus gave the name 
acr/crjcris to this sort of labor. While he also uses the word in 
other senses, 64 he says in one passage that "more are good 
from training, asceticism (ao-fcrjcris), than nature." 65 Simi- 
larly Protagoras says that "one should receive education 
from nature and training." 66 This was therefore the mean- 
ing of the word " asceticism " when it was first introduced 
into the vocabulary of philosophy. 

2Frg. 5 Diels. 

3 Hes. Op. 287ff.: T^ kv TOI KaK^ra Kctl l\adov t<mv e\e<n?m 
pijidlus ' AetTj pat 656s, /udXtt 5' tyyvdi vaiei. ' 
TTJS 8 dpCTTjs idp&TCt $eot TrpOTrapoidev Wi]K.av 
bdavaroi ' jjictupos 8e Koi 6pi9ios olfnos es avTJfv 
Kctl rpTjxt'S r6 Trpcorof ' tirriv 5* ets aKpov 'iKijrai, 
pr)L8iij 5i) eTreiTo: TreXci, xa\-n-i] irep tov<ra. 

"Thus in one place (frg. 110), he uses it in conjunction with \6yos 
for "to talk." The same meaning of "use" is given the word in 
frg. 53 a. 

5 Frg. 242 : irAcom e &<TKriaios ayadol ylyovrai r) &ir6 ^ucrtos. 
Frg. 3: ^uo-ecos Kai dcr^o-ecos SiSaffKotXice SeiTet.Cf. frg. 10; Critias, frg. 
9. Cf. Capelle, in Neue Jahrto. /. Tel. Alt., 25 (1910), p. 697, n. 2. 


The preceding chapters of this essay have been devoted to 
a study of the ascetic features of the religion of early Greece. 
We have found numerous interdictions of the most elementary 
sort, greatly resembling the taboos found among all primitive 
peoples ; we have seen that any approach of such interdicted 
things to a person polluted that person ; he who would remain 
pure had to keep away from them. It has also been seen 
that a person polluted in this way had to undergo purifica- 
tions which were sometimes of a most stringent sort, demand- 
ing acts of veritable asceticism. An unusual degree of purity 
was demanded before important religious acts, the attainment 
of which required, at times, fasting and continence. It has 
been seen, too, that back of practices was a belief in evil 
spirits, which were supposed to reside in the tabooed things, 
and which attached themselves to a person's body whenever 
they got a chance, polluting it and thus making it impossible 
for that person to approach sacred things ; back of the whole 
thing, therefore, was a division of the world, or at least of 
the spiritual world, into two parts, one good and the other 
bad, one fas and the other nefas, and the belief that these two 
worlds, or two orders of spirits were so radically hetero- 
geneous that they could not even approach one another. As 
to the why and the wherefore of all this, these primitive 
peoples did not ask; persons in their intellectual stage seem 
to take it pretty much for granted. 

During the seventh and sixth centuries, however, a new 
religious movement came over Greece, which was marked by 
the appearance of new cults, and which showed a great ad- 



vance in the religious development of Greece. One example 
of these new cults is found in Orphism. The followers of 
this religion retained the old rites and purifications and 
abstinences, but explained them by the theological system 
which we outlined above : a theory of the world was drawn up 
which made asceticism seem not only a natural but also a 
highly desirable thing. 

But there is still a third stage in the evolution of early 
Greek ascetical thought, and after that, as will be seen, there 
was very little for succeeding generations to add. This third 
stage is found in the asceticism of Plato; in it, the ascetic 
tendencies which we have been studying were united and 
clarified and reduced to a theory, and this theory so closely 
united with the then universally accepted theory of the world, 
that Plato's thought remained the source from which ascetical 
theologians drew their doctrines for centuries to come. It 
is therefore of the highest importance for us to understand 
Plato's doctrine on the subject. But this portion of his phi- 
losophy is so closely related to all the rest, and his whole 
philosophy is in a way so much the product of his time, that 
we must have these accompanying features clearly in mind 
before turning to his strictly ascetical thought. 

The gradual expansion of Greece during the eighth and 
following centuries, and the effect which this had upon the 
development of Greek religion and thought, have already been 
noted. In the fifth century this process continued at an even 
more rapid rate, and at the same time numerous internal 
causes cooperated to bring about even greater upheavals in 
Greece. As the present study is not a social history of Greece, 
there is no need for describing these developments in detail, 
and it will be sufficient to say that after the times of Marathon 
and Salamis, new tendencies appeared and nothing was ever 
quite the same in Greece again. The old petty rivalries of 
the city-states tended to be forgotten to a certain extent, and 
the new ideal of Hellas began to arise; the isolated agri- 


cultural communities began to break up, and with them de- 
parted the old superstitions which had formerly bound men ; 
an era of enlightenment ensued an era to which no parallel 
can be found previous to the nineteenth century. The new 
demands for education brought into being a new class of men, 
called Sophists, whose business it was to impart this educa- 
tion. During the fifth century, these sophists were the in- 
tellectual leaders of Greece, and it was their liberalizing 
instruction which brought about the intellectual revolution 
of the century it is a most noteworthy fact that the true 
nature of the sophists was first recognized, and that they were 
first raised from the general opprobrium to which Plato's 
diatribes had consigned them for a period of over two thou- 
sand years, by a historian, Grote, who was himself a radical 
of much the same sort, and that the most brilliant account 
of their work which we possess was written by another still 
more radically-minded thinker, Gilbert Murray. 1 It is hard 
for us to imagine the revolutionary effect which this teaching 
must have had upon Greece, and particularly upon Athens, 
but as it is hard to find anything that was immune from their 
criticism, its consequences must indeed have been far-reach- 
ing : when Protagoras taught that " man is the measure of all 
things," pretty much all the old moral values must already 
have been overthrown. The sophists at least brought intel- 
lectual freedom, but perhaps they brought anarchy too. Then 
came the Peloponnesian War, and Athens was defeated. In 
spite of her freedom, in spite of her enlightenment, in spite of 
her culture, in spite of her lofty ideals, such as those ex- 
pressed in Pericles' s funeral oration, Athens was defeated. 
Though no doubt her soldiers were just as brave and just as 
strong as her enemies', something was wrong; some people 
laid this to the work of the sophists, which, they claimed, had 
weakened Athens. Perhaps they were right, too; perhaps 

i Grote, History of Greece, chap. Mi; Murray, Euripides and Ms Age, 
pp. 4458 and passim. 


the sophists were partially to blame for the eternal quibbling 
which was Athens's ruin; perhaps it is true that the ideals 
which they taught, though lofty, were ' machtlos/ were unable 
to inspire men to put forth their best efforts, to sacrifice any- 
thing and everything for their sake, and that from that ultra- 
pragmatic point of view which teaches that truth is not only 
what ' works' but also what makes us work, they were de- 
ficient. At any rate, as soon as the war was over, it became 
evident that further intellectual reform was an urgent neces- 
sity, and at just this moment Plato appeared. 

Plato was descended from one of the old aristocratic fami- 
lies of Athens, 2 and of his loyalty to his city, we can have 
no doubt. The old story of the heroic deeds of the Athenians 
in times forgotten, which he relates at the beginning of the 
Timaeus, is a proof of this. In one passage 3 he speaks very 
highly of Isocrates, singling him out from among all the 
sophists as one who might eventually come to be something, 
which might suggest that Plato was interested in the pan- 
Hellenism of the fourth century, of which Isocrates was so 
eminent an advocate, but in any case his first loyalty was 
always to Athens. He was not blind to the faults of her 
citizens, and was perfectly willing to criticise many of the 
things which they held dear, but notwithstanding this, 
passages too numerous to mention, in which he speaks of her 
beauty and grandeur, should convince us that the fate of 
Athens was always near his heart. But, as has been pointed 
out, Athens had just been defeated; this fact, and his love 
for his city, were the main-springs of all Plato's activity. 
His great purpose in all his work was to rehabilitate the city 
in its ancient splendor, and to make possible once more that 
former glory, which now seemed to be gone. Our first witness 
is the attention he gave to political philosophy, and his efforts 

2 See Plato's genealogy, given in Burnet, Greek Philosophy from 
Thales to Plato, Part I, p. 351. 
sPhaedr. 279. 


to conceive an ideal state which would point out to his fellow- 
citizens how to make their city great again ; the attention he 
gives to defenders, to military preparedness, shows where his 
real interest lay. Again, his antipathy to the sophists is thus 
explained ; others at the time were blaming them for Athens's 
weakness, and it is probably the case that Plato, too, all un- 
consciously perhaps, 4 felt that they, and especially their 
damnable teaching, were to blame for his city's fall, and that 
he hated them accordingly. At any rate, his onslaught upon 
their ideas is enough to show that he felt that it was a matter 
of the highest concern that they should be refuted ; why was 
he so zealous in this, if not that he thought that it would do 
some good to somebody? 

It was a firm belief of Plato, and of the Greeks in general, 
that to act rightly, one must think correctly, that right think- 
ing precedes right acting: if men do wrong, it is because 
they think wrong. Thus Plato says that " no man is volun- 
tarily bad ; but the bad become bad by reason of an ill disposi- 
tion of the body and bad education." Consequently, if one 
would improve morally, he should improve himself intel- 
lectually ; a few lines below, Plato continues, " we should 
endeavour as far as we can by education, and studies, and 
learning, to avoid vice and attain virtue." 5 It is no wonder, 
then, that when Plato set out to better the condition of his 
city, he first attacked what he considered a vicious philosophy 
and then urged the study of true philosophy. Let us see 
exactly what he wished to reform. 

The sophists had been radical empiricists : they had main- 
tained that nothing existed which could not be perceived by 
the senses. Thus Protagoras taught that " man is the meas- 
ure of all things." Carried into the moral field, this doc- 

* Cf . Eep. VI 492, where it is denied that the sophists were corruptors 
of youth. But cf. the parable of the mutinous crew ( 488) which is 
rather obviously directed at the Athenians, and especially the spirit of 
the sophists. 

s Tim. 86, 87. Here, as elsewhere, Jowett 's translation is followed. 


trine led to a denial of the existence of moral ideals, goodness, 
justice and the like; Euripides was then able to say that 
"nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." 
It was this denial of the real existence of ideals which aroused 
Plato's greatest antagonism, and we shall see that his affirma- 
tion of their real and absolute existence is the very heart of 
his philosophy. 

There was a second doctrine which was a particular abomi- 
nation to Plato: this was Heraclitus's teaching that nothing 
is stationary, but that everything flows. In Plato's day, it 
was only too obvious a fact that everything was changing, and 
this was the cause of his concern. It was true that many 
things, yes, all visible things did change incessantly, but 
Plato would not admit that there was absolutely nothing 
stable, nothing enduring in the whole universe. When this 
doctrine of eternal change was applied to everything to the 
ideals of the good, the true, the beautiful, and the like 
people were going too far, it seemed, and Plato protested. If 
there really were nothing constant and in the world, then 
science, knowledge, learning from experience, law, justice, 
and society itself would be impossible, and perhaps the then 
unhappy state of the Athenians was due to their great desire 
for change. Plato, on the other hand, held that there was 
much that was desirable in the past, and tried to show that 
there were things which were unchanging. 

This leads us to a third point : the sophists, like the philoso- 
phers who preceded them, had but little respect for the reli- 
gion of the past as was but natural. But this did not seem 
quite right to Plato either. To be sure, he would have been 
glad enough to get rid of the Olympians and their chronique 
scandaleuse , but it seemed to him that there was much that 
was worth preserving in the old religion of his people. There 
is a sort of piety that runs through the dialogues which is 
hardly what we should expect from the rationalizing and em- 
pirical sophists "I too believe that the gods are our guar- 


dians, and that we are a possession of theirs/' said Socrates. 6 
Moreover, in certain portions of his work, the influence of 
old Orphic ideas is very marked: it will presently be seen 
that his doctrine of asceticism was taken over from them 
almost en bloc. It should be remembered, also, that his 
teacher Socrates had been identified with the Orphics by 
Aristophanes, in his Clouds, so it may be that Plato got these 
ideas from his master. At any rate, there will be numerous 
occasions for showing his close affinity with the Orphics. 

These two points the existence of unchanging ideals and 
the return to Orphism might lead one to suppose that it is 
our intention to show that Plato wished to return to the " good 
old times" before the sophists came and upset things, but 
this is not at all the case: no one could maintain that the 
author of the Republic was a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary. 
In fact, it is only after the criticism of the sophists that Plato 
could think for a minute of accepting the old Orphic tales: 
of course they were not true, and so long as any one was in 
danger of taking them as such, it would be impossible to make 
any use of them. But when he is sure that nobody will take 
them literally, when all will agree with him that one cannot 
" affirm that this is exactly true a man of sense ought hardly 
to say that," then he can approach them with a free mind and 
find a valuable lesson in them. Plato is able to say, for ex- 
ample, that " he was not a bad genealogist who said that Iris 
the messenger of heaven is the child of Thaumas (wonder)," 7 
and on other occasions to call upon them for more important 
contributions than that, but this was possible only after the 
negative criticism of the sophists. As an eminent French 
critic has remarked, " sans Voltaire, Renan etait impossible. 
II a fallu nier avec colere avant de pouvoir nier avec sym- 
pathie. II f allait que le pouvoir de 1'Eglise fut detruit, pour 
qu'on put rendre justice a la religion sans y croire." 8 That 
is just what Plato did. 

Phaed. 62. 

i Theaet. 155. 

s Lanson, Histoire de la litterature fran$aise, p. 772. 


These preliminary remarks should enable us to understand 
the real nature of Plato's philosophy. While there is no 
need to go into details about the logic of Plato's system of 
ideas, it must be briefly outlined, if we are to understand his 
" other-worldliness," which was at the foundation of his doc- 
trine of asceticism. 

The fundamental doctrine in Plato's entire system is the 
real existence of ideals, that is, of an absolute good, an abso- 
lute justice, etc. " There is nothing which to my mind is so 
evident as that beauty, good and other notions have a most 
real and absolute existence." 9 The ideas which we have of 
such things are at best but feeble copies of these : " there is no 
light in the earthly copies of justice or temperance or any of 
the other higher qualities which are precious to souls: they 
are seen but through a glass dimly; and there are few who, 
going to the images, behold in them the realities, and they 
with difficulty." 10 The feeble copies of these ideas which are 
in our own minds bear the same relation to the absolute ideas 
that a reflection in water or a looking-glass does to the object 
reflected. 11 So far, Platonic ideas are seen to be only really- 
existing ideals, things whose existence some persons would 
deny (" the uninitiated, who believe in nothing but what they 
hold fast in their hands" 12 ); Plato maintained that they 
really did exist as absolute ideas. But he did not stop there. 
He went on, and spoke of the idea of a shuttle 13 or a bed, 14 
and even spoke of the " pattern " which " the artificer had in 
view when he made the world." 15 But this was only an ex- 
tension of the doctrine; the heart of it, and nearly all the 
examples, relate to moral entities, or as we should say, to 

Phaed. 77. 

10 Phaedr. 249. 

11 Eep. VI 515. 

12 Theaet. 155. 
is Cratyl. 393. 
i* Eep. X 596. 
IB Tim. 29. 


Thus he arrives at the conception of a dual world : the sen- 
sible or visible world, and the world of ideas, or the intelli- 
gible world. But the intelligible world is not only the world 
of ideas ; it is also the world of changeless things ; moreover, 
it is the only real world. " That which is apprehended by 
reflection and reason always is, and is the same ; that, on the 
other hand, which is conceived by opinion with the help of 
sensation and without reason, is in a process of becoming and 
perishing, but never really is." 16 So there can be no doubt 
as to the infinite superiority of the intelligible world over the 
sensible one, and the highest aspiration that a man can have 
is to live in this other, superior, ideal world. 

" This is that life above all others which a man should live, in 
the contemplation of beauty absolute ; a beauty which if you once 
beheld, you would see not to be after the measure of gold, and 
garments, and fair boys and youths, which when you now behold 
you are in fond amazement, and you and many a one are content 
to live seeing only and conversing with them without meat or 
drink, if that were possible. ... In that communion only, be- 
holding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to 
bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities. . . . Would that 
be an ignoble life?" 17 

But how is a man to live this life " in the contemplation 
of beauty absolute " ? This leads us to a discussion of Plato's 
anthropology. Like the world, man is dual: just as "the 
seen is the changing and the unseen the unchanging," so " the 
soul is more like the unseen, and the body to the seen." 18 
" The soul is the very likeness of the divine and immortal, 
and intelligible, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchange- 
able; and the body is the very likeness of the human, and 
mortal, and unintelligible, and multiform, and dissoluble and 
changeable." 19 Thus we find the two parts of man, the soul 

16 Tim. 28. 
IT Symp. 211-2. 
is Phaed. 79. 
i Phaed. 80. 


and the body, of which the soul is unquestionably the superior 
part ; it would be better if the body could be dispensed with 

" The soul is dragged by the body into the region of the change- 
able, and wanders and is confused; the world spins round her, 
and she is like ,a drunkard when under their [the senses'] influ- 
ence. . . . But when returning into herself she reflects, then she 
passes into the realm of purity, and eternity, and immortality, 
and unchangeableness, which are her kindred, and with them she 
ever lives, when she is by herself and is not let or hindered ; then 
she ceases from her erring ways, and being in communion with 
the unchanging is unchanging." 20 

The similarity with Orphic views is obvious here, but it 
becomes still more so if we turn to his theory of how the soul 
came to be in the body, for he, as they, believed in a Fall and 
that the body is a punishment. He speaks of a former " state 
of innocence, shining in pure light, pure ourselves and not 
yet enshrined in that living tomb which we carry about, now 
that we are imprisoned in the body, as in an oyster-shell. Let 
me linger thus long over the memory of scenes that have 
passed away. 7 ' 21 

Connected with this is his further acceptance of the Orphic 
doctrine of the transmigration of souls. Like the Orphics, 
Plato believed not only in rewards and punishments after 
death for acts committed during this life " for I have good 
hope that there is yet something remaining for the dead, and 
as has been said of old, something far better for the good than 
for the evil" 22 but he also believed in the transmigration 
of souls into higher or lower animals, or else advance to fel- 
lowship with the gods after death: low persons after death 
enter into asses, wolves, etc., "but he who is a philosopher 
or lover of learning, and is entirely pure at departing, is alone 

20 Phaed. 79. 

21 Phaedr. 250. 

22 Phaed. 83, cf. 107ff., esp. 113. 


permitted to reach the gods." 23 I am "persuaded," says 
Socrates, "that I am going to other gods who are wise and 
good (of this I am as certain as I can be of anything of the 
sort), and to men departed (though I am not so certain of 
this) and are better than those whom I leave behind." 24 In 
the Phaedrus, again, he develops at length his theory of the 
Fall from seeing the truth, the struggle to attain that happy 
state again, and the passage, meantime, through various ani- 
mals: ordinary people will return to their former state of 
bliss after 10,000 years, but lovers and philosophers after 
only 3,000. 25 

This gives us a hint as to what Plato considered the way 
of progress, the way to purify oneself and return to one's 
original exalted state, as to what he considered man's highest 
activity: this was philosophic speculation. In good Greek 
wise, he held that the only way to have one act correctly was 
to have him think correctly, whence the great emphasis he 
placed upon philosophy: teaching this was, according to his 
opinion, the only way to improve men. Therefore he re- 
quires that the guardians of his ideal state shall be philoso- 
phers : it is the highest form of activity which any man can 
follow: the finer sort of minds identify wisdom and the 
good. 26 This is the ultimate standard of value : " is there not 
one coin for which all things ought to exchange? that is 
wisdom ; and only in exchange for this, and in company with 
this, is anything truly bought or sold, whether courage or 
temperance or justice." 27 Elsewhere, he says that "the 
study of philosophy is the noblest and best music." 28 " For 
' many/ as they say in the mysteries, ' are the thyrsus-bearers, 
but few are the mystics/ meaning, as I interpret the words, 

23 Phaed. 81. 
2* Phaed. 63. 

25 Phaedr. 248-9. 

26 Eep. VI 505. 
2T Phaed. 69. 
28 Phaed. 61. 


the true philosophers." 29 Phaedms is made to say, "What 
motive has a pnan to live if not for the pleasures of discourse ? 
Surely he would not live for the sake of bodily pleasures, 
which are rightly called slavish." 30 

" And therefore the mind of the philosopher alone has wings ; 
and this is just, for he is always, according to the measure of his 
abilities, clinging in recollection to those things in which God 
abides, and in believing which he is what he is. And he who 
employs aright these memories is ever being initiated into perfect 
mysteries and alone becomes perfect. But as he forgets earthly 
interests and is rapt in, the divine, the vulgar deem him mad, 
and rebuke him ; they do not see that he is inspired." 31 

But, after all, the ,best proof of what Plato thought of 
philosophers and their work is shown by the glorious future 
which he promised them. 

" He who has lived as a true philosopher has reason to be of 
good cheer when he is about to die, and after death he may hope 
to receive the greatest good in the other world." 32 

"Those who are remarkable for having led holy lives are re- 
leased from this earthly prison, and go to their pure home, which 
is above, and dwell in the purer earth ; and those who have duly 
purified themselves with philosophy live henceforth altogether 
without the body, in mansions fairer far than these, which may 
not be described, and of which time would fail me to tell. ... I 
do not mean to affirm that the description which I have given of 
the soul and her mansions is exactly true a man of sense ought 
hardly to say that. But I do say that, inasmuch as the soul is 
shown to be immortal, he may venture to think, not improperly 
or unworthily, that something of the kind is true. The adventure 
is a glorious one, and he ought to comfort himself with words 
like these, which is the reason why I lengthen out the tale. 
Wherefore, I say, let a man be of good cheer about his soul, who 

2 Phaed. 69. 
so Phaedr. 258. 
si Phaedr. 249. 
32 Phaed. 64. 


has cast away the pleasures and ornaments of the body as alien to 
him, and rather hurtful in their effects, and has followed after 
the pleasures of knowledge in this life ; who has adorned the soul 
in her own proper jewels, which are temperance, and justice, and 
courage, and truth in these arrayed she is ready to go on her 
journey to the world below, when her time comes." 33 

But it must not be assumed that everybody was supposed 
to be a philosopher, or even could be one : only a chosen few 
might aspire to such a rank. Others, if they attempted phi- 
losophy, would only degrade it, as the sophists did : " all 
those mercenary adventurers, whom the world calls Sophists 
and rivals, do but teach the collective opinion of the many, 
which are the opinions of their assemblies ; and this is their 
wisdom. 7 ' 34 " The world cannot possibly be a philosopher ? 
Impossible. And therefore philosophers must inevitably fall 
under the censure of the world? They must." 35 All can- 
not be philosophers, but he that is able to receive it, let him 
receive it. 

Such, then, seem to have been the fundamental concepts of 
Plato's philosophy: the real existence of ideas, and particu- 
larly of ideals, which form a separate and superior world, and 
which are known by the mind alone; the inability of most 
people to see these clearly, or at all; the ability of the phi- 
losopher to see them, and the joy which this gives him, both 
here and hereafter. Let us see how all this is connected with 
his asceticism. 

In the first place, we must point out that though there are 
many passages, some of which we shall quote, which teach a 
depreciation of the body, there are also many which encour- 
age its development, which teach the ideal of a "mens sana 
in corpore sano." He never criticises gymnastics, but he fre- 
quently does praise them : " that is the best of the purifica- 
tions of the body which is effected by gymnastic." 36 

as Phaed. 115. 
s* Eep. VI 493. 
ss Eep. 494. 
se Tim. 89. 


"But the fair mind in the fair body will be the fairest and 
loveliest sight to him who has the seeing eye. . . . [To attain 
this] we should not move the body without the soul or the soul 
without the body, and thus they will aid one another and be 
healthy and well balanced. And therefore the mathematician 
or anyone else who devotes himself to some intellectual pursuit, 
must allow his body to have motion also, and practice gymnastic ; 
and he who would train the limbs of his body, should impart to 
them the motions of the soul, and should practice music and all 
philosophy, if he would be called truly fair and truly good." 37 

These passages are enough to show that Plato did not share 
in that hatred of the body which many ascetics have sought to 
show, and that he would never have sanctioned mutilations 
and the other excessive penances which have at times been in- 
flicted upon the body. None of the texts cited below demand 
much more than that the body be kept in its proper place, and 
that the philosopher attach no value to it. 

But notwithstanding all this, one should never forget that 
" the beauty of the mind is more honorable than the beauty 
of outward form." 38 One must remember that "in the re- 
gion above the heavens is the place of true knowledge/' 39 and 
that "no impure thing is allowed to approach the pure." 40 
Moreover, " what is purification but the separation of the soul 
from the body but the release of the soul from the chains 
of the body? And the true philosophers, and they only, 
study and are eager to release the soul." 41 

" The soul which is pure at departing draws after her no bodily 
taint, having never voluntarily had connection with the body, 
which she is ever avoiding, herself gathered into herself; (for 
such abstraction has been the study of her life). And what does 

37 Tim. 88. 
ss Symp. 210. 
39 Phaedr. 247. 
Phaed. 67. 
*i Ibid. 


this mean but that she has been a true disciple of philosophy, 
and has practiced how to die easily ? " 42 

After death "the foolishness of the body will be cleared away 
and we shall be pure and hold converse with other pure souls, 
and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere; and this is 
surely the light of truth." 43 

" While we are in the body, and while the soul is mingled with 
this mass of evil, our desire will not be satisfied, and our desire 
is of the truth. For the body is a source of endless trouble to us 
by reason of the mere requirement of food ; and also is liable to 
diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after truth : 
and by filling us as full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies, 
and idols, and every sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as 
people say, so much as a thought." 44 

This reminds one of the old Orphic doctrine that the body 
is evil, that it is a punishment, that it is a tomb. In fact, in 
one place Socrates is made to say that " there is a doctrine 
uttered in secret that man is a prisoner ; this is a great mys- 
tery which I do not quite understand." 45 The body is a 
hindrance to the philosopher. 

Finally, there are a certain number of passages which de- 
scribe even more clearly the disregard which the true philoso- 
pher will have for all things connected with the body. I will 
quote two of them. 

"He whose desires are drawn towards knowledge in every 
form will be absorbed in the pleasures of the soul, and will hardly 
feel bodily pleasure I mean, if he be a true philosopher and not 
a sham one. Such a one is sure to be temperate and the reverse 
of covetous ; for the motives which make other men covetous and 
also profuse in expenditure, are no part in his character." 46 

" Do you think that the philosopher ought to care about the 

42 Phaed. 80. 

43 Phaed. 67. 

44 Phaed. 66. 

45 Phaed. 62. 

46 Rep. VI 485. 


pleasures if they are to be called pleasures of eating and 
drinking ? 

" Certainly not, answered Simias. 

" And what do you say about the pleasures of love should he 
care about them? 

ee By no means. 

" And will he think much of the other ways of indulging the 
body, for example the acquisition of costly raiment, or sandals, 
or other adornments of the body ? Instead of caring about them, 
will he not rather despise anything more than nature needs? 
Whait do you say ? 

"I should iSay that the true philosopher would despise them. 

" Would you not say that he is entirely concerned with the soul 
and not with the body ? He would like, so far as he can, to be 
quit of the body and turn to the soul. 

" That is true. 

"In matters of this sort philosophers, above all other men, 
may be observed in every sort of way to dissever the soul from the 

" That is true. 

" Whereas, Simmias, the rest of the world are of the opinion 
that a life which has no bodily pleasures and no part in them is 
not worth having; but that he who thinks nothing of bodily 
pleasures is almost as though he were dead. 

" That is quite true. 

" What again shall we say of the actual acquirement of knowl- 
edge ? is the body, if invited to share in the inquiry, a hinderer 
or a helper? I mean to say, have sight and hearing any truth 
in them ? Are they not, as the poets are always telling us, inac- 
curate witnesses ? and yet, if even they are inaccurate and indis- 
tinct, what is to be said of the other senses ? for you will allow 
that they are the best of them ? 

" Certainly, he replied. 

" Then when does the soul attain truth ? f or in attempting to 
consider anything in company with the body, she is obviously 

" Yes, that is true. 


" And thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself 
and none of these things trouble her neither sounds nor sights 
nor pains nor pleasures when she has as little as possible to do 
with the body, and has no bodily sense or feeling, but is aspiring 
after being? 

"And in this the philosopher dishonors the body; his soul 
runs away from the body and desires to be alone and by herself ? 

" That is true." 47 

In these passages, at last, we come to a truly ascetic ideal. 
Here, at last, is that complete inversion of the ordinary values 
of the world which is known as asceticism. Here is described 
the ideal sage, rising above the cares and worries, and also 
above the pleasures and delights of this world, that he may 
give himself over completely to the contemplation of higher 
things. Here, too, is the teaching that man's highest and 
noblest activity is pure speculation. And this speculation is 
not merely noble, but is also useful : the most important men 
in the state were to be the philosophers. The greatest service 
is not rendered by those who busy themselves with the affairs 
of this world, but by those who spend their lives in the con- 
templation of .beauty absolute and absolute truth and all the 
other absolute ideas, and who pass down to their fellowmen 
the truths thus learned they also serve who only sit and 
think, so the ascetic does not live in vain. 

In the preceding sections of our essay it has been shown 
how the idea arose among the Greeks that there were certain 
things which it was better not to do, even though they ap- 
peared to be harmless enough in themselves: we have seen 
the old beliefs in evil demons which inhabited certain things, 
which should therefore be avoided; we have seen how the 
progress of intelligence made these old beliefs less readily 
tenable, and how a new interpretation of them became neces- 
sary, which taught the radical dualism of soul and body, with 
the great superiority of the former, and the implication that 
47 Phaed. 64-5. 


restraining the latter raised the former to a more perfect 
state ; we now come to the consummation of this whole devel- 
opment. Perhaps we should have noticed certain contribu- 
tions of the pre-Socratic philosophers: of Heraclitus who 
taught that Logos, Reason, ruled everything, 48 and of Anaxa- 
goras, who is said to have been the first to distinguish between 
spirit and matter; 49 probably these thinkers had a certain in- 
fluence upon Plato, too. We have also attempted to sketch 
the social and intellectual conditions which led Plato to take 
the attitude he did, and to lay such stress upon these ideas 
which, he taught, had a real and absolute existence. So we 
at last arrived at Plato's teaching of a superior and invisible 
world which is known by the mind alone, but which is so far 
superior to the sensible world that all who can should stop 
bothering greatly about the affairs of this lower sphere, and 
seek only the joys and pleasures of the world above. And 
finally, we saw how this doctrine led Plato to make statements 
which have a genuinely ascetic ring. 

Later thinkers had but little to add. Aristotle took over 
the conception that man's highest activity is pure specula- 
tion : " perfect happiness is a species of speculative activity ; " 
" animals, as being perfectly destitute of such activity, do not 
participate in happiness." "We conclude then that happi- 
ness is coextensive with speculation, and that the greater a 
person's power of speculation, the greater will be his happi- 
ness, not as an accidental fact, but in virtue of the specula- 
tion, as speculation, is honorable in itself. Hence happiness 
must be a kind of speculation." Speculation is even of a 
divine nature, for "the activity of God being preeminently 
blissful will be speculative, and if so, then the human activity 
which is most nearly related to it will be most capable of 
happiness." 50 In later times the Cynics took up this side of 

48 Frg. 1, 2 Diels. 

49 Aristot. Metaph. I 3, 984b, 15. 
soAristot. Nic. Eth. X 8 (tr. Welldon). 



the Socraiic teaching which recommended the neglect and 
depreciation of the body in favor of activity of the mind, and 
Socrates became their ideal sage. From them, the Stoics 
took their ideal of detachment from worldly affairs, and 
finally the Christians took from them and the Neo-Platonists 
(and to a certain extent from the various pagan religions 
with which they came in contact) the ideals which went to 
make up the Christian saint. Exactly how all this took place 
we shall see in the second part of our study, but it may be 
remarked at present that the whole work of the Hellenistic 
epoch consisted merely in an elaboration and exaggeration 
and popularization of ideas which have already been observed. 
Before bringing our discussion to a close, however, one 
more thing must be added. Plato was not only a philoso- 
pher, but also a poet, and it may make it a little easier to 
understand his ideas better if we watch him approach them 
from this other poetic point of view as well. In the Phaedrus 
he gives a little myth which well illustrates his idea of higher 
activity at the expense of the body, and of the reward which 
awaits those who do such things ; this is the story of the origin 
of grasshoppers. 

" Grasshoppers are said to have been human beings in an age be- 
fore the Muses. And when the Muses came and song appeared 
they were ravished with delight; and singing always, they never 
thought of eating and drinking, until at last they forgot and 
died. And now they live again in the grasshoppers ; and this is 
the return which the Muses make to them they hunger no more, 
neither thirst any more, but are always singing from the moment 
they are born, and never eating or drinking; and when they die, 
they go to the Muses in heaven/' 51 

si Phaedr. 259. 






During the period immediately following the life of Plato, 
a great change came over Greece, which had the most far- 
reaching effect upon, all the phases of Greek life and thought. 
Politically the old organization on the basis of city-states was 
wiped away by the Macedonian conquest, while the campaigns 
of Alexander in Asia widened the Greek world to an enor- 
mous extent. Economically the expansion was parallel, and 
Greece now became a part of the Hellenistic Empire. In- 
tellectually the revolution was just as great: it has been seen 
how the activity of the sophists revolutionized the intellectual 
life of Athens, changing the population in less than a cen- 
tury from a group of superstitious farmers into one of the 
most enlightened communities which the world has ever seen. 
Though even Athens was not able to maintain this lofty posi- 
tion permanently, her history during the fifth century is but 
an exaggerated form of what was going on all over Greece in 
this and the following period. This intellectual emancipa- 
tion and the great widening of the horizon which resulted 
from Alexander's conquests had so great an effect that a new 
period in the history of Greek thought must date from the 
end of the fourth century. 

This social revolution was observable in all the phases of 
Greek life, but nowhere was it more evident than in religion. 




After the criticism of the sophists, the old beliefs in the Olymp- 
ian gods were no longer tenable for enlightened persons, the old 
religion was undermined, and men had to find a new one. This 
constant search for a new religion is the most important and 
most characteristic feature of the_ Hellenistic Age. Some 
people tried to revive old popular cults, and were to a certain 
extent successful. Eleusis continued to play an important 
role in the Greek religious life; the Orphics continued to 
attract a certain number of persons. The cults of gods who 
had formerly been rather insignificant, such as Asculapius 
or^Hercules, were developed a great deal. Others estaB- 
lished new cults, such as thosejrf Fate or the Emperor. Still 
others sought to make philosophy a substitute for religion, 
and philosophical schools of a decidedly religious nature, such 
as Stoicism, became popular. But one of the most important 
of the religious developments of the centuries followmgrSIex- 
ander was the introduction of rrew religions from the Orient. 
Even in the fourth century this process began, and during 
the next seven hundred years a constant stream of new reli- 
gions poured into the western world from Egypt, Asia, Minor, 
Syria, Persia, Babylonia and Palestine. The religious life 
of later Greece is therefore markeoTby the greatest confusion, 
by the struggles of sects, by the constant search for something 
new, for a religion which could adequately fill the needs of 
the new age : it was not until the advent of Christianity that 
such a religion was found. 1 

In the various foreign religions of the period, asceticism 
was prominent, but it must be stated at the outset that in the 
distinctly Greek cults and religions, there was little that was 

i For a splendid general account of the political, economic and social 
developments of this period, and particularly for their repercussions 
upon intellectual, philosophical and religious development, see Wend- 
land, Die hellenistisch-romische Kultur (3 ed., 1912). For the general 
religious development, see also Gruppe, Griech. mythol.- u. rel.-geschichte, 
II 3, pp. 1458ff. For detailed points, the modern literature in 
enormous; reference should be made here to the writings of Cumont, 
Beitzenstein, Wendland, Dieterich, Bousset, etc. 


new. OrphisgLfiontinued to teach the ascetic life, hut it had 
already done so for many years, and it is quite impossible to 
say how much was added that was new ; it is hardly prohahle 
that Orphism remained identically the same during the one 
thousand years of its history, hut as has already been pointed 
out, there is absolutely no material which would enable one 
to trace its development exactly. It is probable, however, 
that the general point of view of the Orphics remained the 
same during their whole history, and that whatever changes 
did take place were in a greater or less emphasis upon certain 
details : as we are without materials for forming an accurate 
judgment, an a priori supposition may be hazarded, that as 
time went on, Asceticism became more and more important 
in the Orphic mysteries, for, as will appear later, asceticism 
was very much more " in the air " during the later period 
than before, and the Orphics could hardly have failed to be 
affected by this Zeitgeist. The ascetic features of one of the 
most popular cults of this period, the Eleusian mysteries, have 
already been described ; as in the Orphic mysteries, there was 
no fundamental change at this time, but it is probable that 
under the influence of contemporary thought the ascetic fea- 
tures received greater emphasis than before. In the new 
cults which were mentioned, such as the Emperor cult, there 
TrrnjTD plflnn for anrpjjf%m ; and the philosophical schools, 
while attempting to take the place of religion, were not reli- 
gions, so their asceticism was not strictly religious asceticism ; 
it was an ethical or philosophical asceticism, and will have to 
receive a separate treatment in the following chapters. It is 
thus seen that the strictly Greek side of the religious develop- 

ment of theJEEellenistic times jidji^add^miich. tq.the ascetic 
fe^tuj^es_pi^religion. This is probably due in part to the fact 
that persons of an ascetic turn of mind found their desires 
better filled, either by the philosophical schools, or by the 
oriental religions ; attention must now be directed to these. 
In regard to the oriental religions, a word of introduction 


is necessary. It is not the purpose of the present study to 
give a complete account of the non-Christian antecedents of 
Christian asceticism, and much less to give a general history 
of asceticism; if this were its purpose, a great amount of 
space would have to be devoted to these religions. But the 
present paper is intended merely to give an account of the 
Greek antecedents of Christian asceticism. From this point 
of view, it might seem as though there were no occasion for 
mentioning oriental asceticism at all; this is just as wrong, 
however, as the other view, for, dating from the days of the 
Roman Empire at least, the devotees of these religions were 
to be found in all parts of the Roman world, and their influ- 
ence upon Greeks and Romans was great. In the following 
chapters it will be seen how important this influence upon 
ethical teachers and philosophers was. The ethical teachers 
showed this influence by directly imitating Oriental ascetics, 
though they did so on purely ethical grounds they did not 
accept any religion as a whole. Philosophers felt its effects 
chiefly through Gnosticism, a curious blend of Oriental 
theology and Platonic philosophy, which arose somewhat 
before the advent of the Christian era, and which had a 
powerful influence upon early Christians from the days of 
Paul on, but which also had a noticeable effect upon Greeks 
such as Plotinus. It is consequently necessary to have at 
least a general view of the nature of this oriental asceticism, 
if the later Greek development is to be understood. The 
account to which the remainder of this chapter will be devoted 
seeks to supply this general view, though it does not in any 
way pretend to be complete, and is based entirely upon the 
works of modern specialists. 

Although the term " Oriental religions " covers a multitude 
of sects, coming from many lands, from Asia Minor to Egypt 
or Persia, and representing all stages of refinement, from the 
savage rites of Cybele to the highly spiritualized devotion to 
Isis, still there were certain things which they had in com- 


mon. " Two new things in particular were brought by the 
Oriental priests : mysterious methods of purification, by which 
they claimed to wash away the impurities of the soul, and 
the assurance that a blessed immortality would be the reward 
of piety." 2 Such are the words in which Cumont sums up 
his researches on the subject. Now it has already been shown 
that both of these things had been offered for centuries by the 
Orphics, so one may ask whether the adjective "new" is 
correctly applied to them; but it is incontestable that the 
Oriental religions did present these ideas to many persons for 
the first time Orphism had always been confined to a rela- 
tively small number of persons and that they did actually 
present just these things. Moreover, they agreed, to a con- 
siderable extent, in the methods by which they sought to 
attain this purity: they " pretejodecLto restore lost purity to 
the souljuther through the performance of ritual ^ceremonies 
or through mortifications and penance. They had a series of 
ablutions and lustrations supposed to restore original inno- 
cence to the mystic. He had to wash himself in the sacred 
water according to certain prescribed forms. . . . The votary, 
again, might drink or besprinkle himself with the blood of a 
slaughtered victim or of the priests themselves, in which case 
the prevailing idea was that the liquid circulating in the 
veins was a vivifying principle capable of imparting a new 
existence. These and similar rites were supposed to regener- 
ate the initiated person and to restore him to an immaculate 
and incorruptible life." 3 But this purgation of the soul 
was not effected solely through such liturgic acts; at times, 
self-denial and suffering, real asceticism, was required. 
" Abstinence, which prevented the introduction of deadly 
elements into the system, and chastity, which preserved men 
from pollution and debility, became means of getting rid of 
the domination of evil powers and of regaining heavenly 

2 Cumont, Oriental Beligions in the Boman Empire (1907), p. 39. 
s Ibid., pp. 39f . 


favor. Macerations, laborious pilgrimages, public confes- 
sions, sometimes flagellations and mutilations, in fact, all 
forms of penance and mortifications uplifted the fallen man 
and brought him nearer the gods. . . . This shows the intro- 
duction into Europe of Oriental asceticism." 4 Asceticism 
was therefore one of the prominent features of these new 
religions, and undoubtedly contributed not a little to their 
spread, while on the other hand, their spread contributed not 
a little to the development of ascetic ideals in the Roman 
world ; the two advanced simultaneously as things went from 
bad to worse in the Roman Empire. " We note the spread 
of that feeling of exhaustion and debility which follows the 
aberrations of passion, and the same weakness that led to 
crime impelled men to seek absolution in the formal practices 
of asceticism." 5 But without dwelling further upon a dis- 
cussion of the causes of this ascetic movement, let us attempt 
to describe more carefully the asceticism taught by specific 

As these Oriental religions were all independent of one 
another, there is no logical order for studying them, and a 
geographical order will be as good as any. Then the first 
cult to be studied will be that of Cybele. This cult has been 
traced back to the Cretans, fifteen centuries before our era, 
whence it passed, at an early date, to Asia Minor, where it 
found its real home in the Anatolian highlands of Phrygia. 
The Greek goddess Rhea was probably descended from the 
same Minoan ancestor, but by the end of the fifth century, 
Cybele began to appear in Greece herself, under the name 
of Mother of the Gods. 6 The cult of the goddess was 
formally introduced into Rome in the year 204 B.C. From 
that time on, this religion was among the most popular in 
the city, until the second and third centuries A.D., when it 

* Hid., p. 40f . 

5 Ibid., p. 42. 

e Graillot, Le Culte de Cybele, Mere des Dieux (1912), pp. 1-24. 


reached its greatest importance, and was even accepted by 
emperors. 7 The principal rite of the religion was the tauro- 
bolium, or sacrifice of a bull, for the safety of a beneficiary ; 
sometimes it was for the safety of the Emperor, the Empire 
or a city, and sometimes for that of an individual person. 8 
The ascetic features of the cult are illustrated in the institu- 
tion of sacred eunuchs, or Galli, who were in the service of 
the goddess. The barbarous rite of emasculation here em- 
ployed was probably of Semitic origin and always remained 
abhorrent to the greater part of the Occidentals, but the 
empire could not prevent its spread. " The Galli were 
mystics who had received the major initiation. They had 
reached the highest step of the mystic ladder. Emasculation 
is here the supreme consecration, a veritable sacrament. . . . 
Properly speaking, it is a votive offering, resting upon the 
original notion of substitution and ransom. At the begin- 
ning, they sacrificed some of the most beautiful adolescents 
of the tribe. Later, a partial sacrifice, the ablation and obla- 
tion of the virile organs, might take the place of the complete 
sacrifice of life. 7 ' 9 The men who had offered this sacrifice 
held a privileged place in the religion : they wore special in- 
signia, they performed divination, cured cattle, prophesied 
and became magicians ; sometimes they developed orgiastic 
cults of their own, marked by wild dances terminating in 
delirium, by flagellation and maceration, the sacrifice of their 
own blood, and by mutilations. 10 Their whole life was sepa- 
rated from that of profane persons. " Their religious life is 
incompatible with lay existence. For them, the service of 
their lady is exclusive ; it keeps them about the temples and 
holy images." 11 They lived upon charity. They were sub- 
jected to a common rule which imposed mendicancy upon 

i Ibid., pp. 182, 224. 

8 Ibid., ch. iv. 

9 Ibid., p. 293. 

10 Ibid., pp. SOlff. 
a Ibid., p. 301. 


them, which led Tertullian to speak of it as a " Religion of 
beggars." This demanding alms was one of their forms of 
asceticism. 12 The Galli resembled a mendicant and begging 
order. 13 By this mode of life, they won the admiration of 
multitudes. " Their ardent faith, their ascetic life, their 
austere disciplines were an effective and contagious discipline. 
Many a troubled soul was borne towards these interpreters of 
a divine word, who appeared superior to other men because 
they were no longer men, who heard confessions and directed 
consciences, forgave sins, and gave consolations and sublime 
hopes. " 14 Others did not attain the lofty place held by 
these Galli, but led an ascetic life nevertheless. Some who 
had merely undergone a simple initiation organized them- 
selves into communities called the "Religious of the Great 
Mother," and led a life of greater strictness than that of other 
people, supported wandering Galli, let their hair grow long, 
wore special costumes ; but they were not pagan monks in the 
full sense of the term, for they did not cut themselves off 
from the world altogether they married and became fathers 
of families. 15 

The companion of Cybele was Attis. Though apparently 
of an independent origin, he was, in historical times, always 
associated with her as her lover. In fact, the self-mutilation 
which the Galli performed was explained as being in imita- 
tion of Attis's emasculating himself during frenzy. But 
there were certain features of the Phrygian religion which 
were an Attis cult, and which merit special attention as they 
contained exceptional ascetic elements. According to the 
myth, Attis died as a result of his self-mutilation, and his 
death was bitterly mourned by Cybele. In memory of this 
event, the worshippers mourned also, every spring. During 
three days they spent their time in lamenting the death of the 

12 Ibid., p. 312. 
is Ibid. 

is Ibid., p. 284. 


god. But in the night of the last day, their sorrow was 
turned to joy, for the priest announced that Attis had risen. 
This was hailed as a promise that they too would ultimately 
issue triumphant from the corruption of the grave. 16 Dur- 
ing the days of mourning, however, the worshippers had given 
themselves over to a stringent asceticism perhaps in prep- 
aration for the coming sacrament as much as in a sign of 
sorrow which was a performance much like the day of 
Fasting in the Greek Thesmophoria. They abstained from 
sexual intercourse and from certain forbidden foods, par- 
ticularly bread. 17 

This Easter rejoicing preceded by three days of ascetic 
mourning is also found in the cult of Adonis, in Syria. In ^Q^. . 
fact, the resemblance of the two cults is so great that some n) 

have inferred a common origin. According to the myth, 
Adonis was slain by a boar, while hunting, and was bitterly 
mourned for by Aphrodite (i. e., Astarte ; Adonis is a Greek 
form of Adon, "lord," his Syrian name being Tammuz.) 
This mourning was imitated each spring by his worshippers, 
particularly at Byblos, but also elsewhere (including Jeru- 
salem, Ezek. 8, 14), and, -sen the third day, just as in the 
Attis cult, they rejoiced for the risen Adonis. 18 Here again, 
therefore, we find the doctrine that sorrow expressed merely 
by weeping, or else accompanied by ascetic acts, is an effective 
purification, and a fitting preparation for sacred things. The 
Syrians also had a sacred fish, which could not be eaten ; we 
read of a man who had offended the goddess by eating this 
fish : " dressed in sordid rags, he covered himself with a sack 
and sat in the public highway humbly to proclaim his mis- 
deed in order to obtain forgiveness." 19 We also read that 
the Syrian goddess, too, had her Galli. 20 

16 Frazer, Adonis, Attis, Osiris, I, p. 272. 

17 Hepding, Attis, seine Mythen und sein Kult (1904), pp. 155, 182. 
is Frazer, Op. cit., I, ch. i and ix. 

is Cumont, Oriental Religions, p. 40. 
20 Ibid., p. 222, n. 31. 


Farther to the east was Persia, the home of the religion of 
Mithra. As far back as the religion of this people has been 
traced, it has been found that they worshipped a divinity of 
light, named Mithra, who soon began to receive special atten- 
tion. Regarded as a god of light or fire, sometimes identified 
with the sun, and also regarded as a war god and the giver 
of victory, Mithra received great attention during the period 
of the Persian Empire, and had a large place in the official 
cult. Finally, during the period of moral and religious 
fermentation provoked by the Macedonian conquest, Mithra- 
ism received its final form the form under which it sub- 
sequently spread over the Roman Empire. 21 The religion of 
Mithra was not well received in Greece, but in Rome it was 
for a long time one of the principal religions. It was appar- 
ently introduced into Italy during the first century B.C., but 
dating from the end of the first century A.D. began its real 
prominence. It was always a religion particularly popular 
with the army, and the chief centers of its cult were the 
camps guarding the frontiers of the empire. The religion 
was dualistic in its character, dividing all things into two 
classes, the good ones being under the charge of the superior 
gods of light, and the bad ones given over to the powers of 
darkness. A mighty conflict between good and evil was sup- 
posed to be engaged in upon earth, and this universal conflict 
gave the key to the moral system taught by the religion. 
" Life is a proving, and to leave it victoriously, one had to 
observe the law which the god himself had delivered to the 
ancient Magi.' 722 Incertitude as to the exact nature of this 
law is extreme, but it appears that " perfect purity remained 
for them the end towards which the existence of the faithful 
should tend. Their ritual included repeated lustrations and 
ablutions, which were believed to wash away the stains of the 

21 Cumont, Textes et Monuments -figures relatifs aux mysteres de 
MitJira (1896ff.), I, pp. 223ff. 

22 iud. t I, p. 307. 


soul. This purification conformed to Mazdean traditions, as 
well as being in harmony with the general tendencies of the 
epoch. Ceding to these tendencies, the Mithraists even 
carried their principles to excesses, so that their ideal of per- 
fection inclined towards asceticism. They praised absti- 
nence from certain foods and absolute continence." 23 The 
cult had a clergy upon whom ascetic rules were imposed. 
Tertullian says that the supreme pontiff might marry only 
once, and that, like the Christians, the worshippers of this 
god had their "virgins" and "continents." 24 "The exist- 
ence of this sort of Mithraic monasticism is the more remark- 
able," says Cumont, " because this value attached to celibacy 
is contrary to the spirit of Zoroastrianism." 26 It serves to 
illustrate, however, how great the tendencies in this direction 

The other great religion which spread through the Koman 
Empire was the Egyptian cult of Isis. This goddess was the 
chief divinity of Egypt in the last epoch of its religious de- 
velopment. As was pointed out above, 26 some scholars are 
of the opinion that the cult of Isis exercised considerable 
influence upon the Greek religion in the earliest stages of its 
development; it is certain that by the time of Herodotus, 
the Greeks themselves believed that they saw affinities between 
the two religions. But later the Egyptian cult itself was 
introduced: it had long been known in the Aegean archi- 
peligo, but by 350 B.C. an altar had been erected to Isis at 
_Eir.aejLis_; later the cult appeared in'otEeFparts of Greece, ImcT 
in the %st_century_B.c., it was, introduced_mto Rome; dur- 
ing more than five centuries it was tended in the Latin 
world. 27 In the worship of Isis, asceticism always had a 

23 Ibid., p. 307. 
2* Ibid., p. 324. 
as Ibid. 

26 Supra, p. 27. , 

2? Reseller, Lex. d. griech. u. rom. myth., art. "Isis"; Cumont, Or. 
Eel., pp. 78-85. 


prominent place. The myth related that at one time her son 
Osiris was killed, and his body cut up and thrown into the 
Nile ; for a long time she sought him, sorrowing, until at last 
she found him and brought him to life again. In memory 
of this event, her worshippers lamented also for a while over 
the slain Osiris, but as in the other religions, their sorrow 
was followed by rejoicing upon the resurrection of the god. 28 
The period of mourning was marked by fasts and other 
ascetic rites. It has sometimes been urged that a special 
asceticism was demanded of the priests of Isis. A fragment 
of the Stoic Chaeremon has preserved a description of these 
priests, with their ascetic life, their slow march, their down- 
cast eyes, etc. ; 29 but it has recently been strongly urged that 
this description is a great exaggeration. The most recent 
writer on the subject maintains that there was no asceticism 
among the Egyptian priests. But whether Chaeremon exag- 
gerated or not, it is certain that Otto 30 is wrong when he 
denies that there were any ascetics at all. It is certain that 
at least in the second century before our era, there were in- 
dividuals who had given themselves over to an ascetic life in 
honor of Isis or Serapis. In the papyri coming from the 
great Serapeum at Memphis there is frequent mention of 
individuals called /eaTo^ot, who were recluses in the temple 
and devoted to the service of the goddess. It is true that 
Preuschen and others maintain that this word means "pos- 
sessed," and signifies that these individuals were " possessed " 
by the goddess or inspired, 31 but the best modern scholars 
agree that it really means "bound" and signifies that they 
were recluses, prisoners of the goddess. 32 Over sixty years 

28 Frazer, Op. cit., II, ch. i, and pp. 49-51, 84-86. 

29 Apud Porph. de Abst. IV 6. 

so Otto, Priester und Tempel im hellenistischen Agypten (1905), II, 
p. 167. 

31 Preuschen, Monchtum und Serapiskult (1899). 

32 Bouch-Leclercq, in Melanges Perrot, p. 17ff . ; Beitzenstein, Hellen- 
istische Mysterienreligionen, p. 74. 


ago Brunet de Presle, in a paper read before the French 
Institute, suggested a connection between these recluses and 
the early monks; 33 several years later, Weingarten seriously 
attempted to explain the whole rise of Christian monasticism 
from them, alleging that Pachomius, the legislator of Chris- 
tian monasticism, had been such a recluse in his youth; 34 this 
is obviously too simple a theory, and is not held by any 
serious scholars today, but the very posing of the question 
directed considerable attention to these men, and their ascetic 
character has been made very evident. "We may also con- 
sider as established that the tcdTo%oi of Serapis and Isis are 
novices who serve for years or even a life time in the temple 
in the hope of consecration," and that there was a theory 
that " this neglect of the body was especially pleasing to God, 
and a hope of being considered worthy of extraordinary 
dreams and visions while in such a state." 35 As time went 
on, asceticism became ever more common in Egypt: in the 
second and third centuries, the land was filled with anchorites 
and wandering ascetics, who not only made it a point to ab- 
stain from flesh, wine and sexual intercourse, but who also 
inflicted upon themselves all sorts of severe mortifications. 36 
Egypt became preeminently the land of extravagant ascetics, 
so that the eccentric Christians had but little to add to what 
these Egyptians had already done. 

As was said at the outset, all of this had the greatest influ- 
ence upon later Christian development, but for the Greeks, 
its effect was felt chiefly through the intermediacy of that 
curious philosophy known as Gnosticism, which grew up out 
of a combination of the theological tenets of these various 

ss Memoire sur le Srapeum de Memphis, in M6moires Presentes par 
diverses savants d I' Academic des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres II 

3 *Der Ursprung des Monchtums in nachconstantinischen Zeitalter 

35 Reitzenstein, Mysteritnrel., pp. 89ff. 

ss Reitzenstein, W under erzahlung en, pp. 65ff., 142ff.j etc. 


sects with Platonic philosophy. A few words must there- 
fore be devoted to a description of some of the features of 
this system. 

The term Gnosticism is applied to a somewhat hetero- 
geneous group of systems of belief which were prevalent 
during the first three centuries of our era, and which con- 
cerned themselves with a yvwo'i'S, or higher knowledge, which 
amounted to a revelation for the direction of life. Though it 
was the result of the general syncretism of the period, the 
sources of the different Gnostic systems varied: thus some 
Gnostics showed closer affinities with Egyptian, others with 
Babylonian, and others with Persian thought, but all in- 
cluded within their systems elements coming from all of 
these sources, as well as from Greek philosphy. 37 This type 
of thought had the greatest influence upon the speculations 
of the early Christians: in the second century there was an 
extremely close connection between the two, but these rela- 
tions go back to the apostle Paul himself, who was pro- 
foundly influenced by Gnostic speculation. 38 But it is clear 
that Gnosticism was independent of Christianity and even 
preceded it. 39 

The central ideas common to all the systems of Gnostic 
speculation were those of a radical dualism in the world, and 
of the ascent of the soul to the higher element. This dualism 
contained both the Persian antithesis of good and bad, of 
light and darkness, and the Platonic antithesis of soul and 
body. Into the details of the myths by which the origin 
of this dualism was explained, it is not necessary to go: it 
will be sufficient to say that they were a most curious and 

37 Of. Scott, in Encyc. Eel. and Ethics, art. ' l Gnosticism, ' ' p. 234. 

38 See particularly, Keitzenstein, MysterienreL; p. 56: "Die religions- 
geschichtliche Betrachtung darf ihn stellen nicht als den ersten, aber als 
den grossesten Gnostiker." P. 59: "Die hellenistische religiose Litera- 
tur muss er gelesen haben; ihre Sprache redet er, ihre Gedanken hat er 
Bich hineinversetzt. " 

39 Friedlander, Der vorchristl. jud. Gnosticismus (1898). 


confused medley of myths from all sorts of sources and repre- 
senting all stages of refinement. In the universe which this 
dualism thus divided into hostile camps, man held an inter- 
mediate position: he was evil, he was material, but he also 
had a soul, though a fallen one, and by this he was attached 
to the superior world. 40 Now the central idea of Gnosticism 
was redemption: the Gnosis was offered to the elect as a 
means whereby the soul might free itself from the body and 
its bondage. As all of the evil and misery of the world were 
blamed upon the mixture of the two antagonistic principles, 
redemption from them consisted in deliverance from the in- 
trinsically evil material world. It is obvious that such a 
theory could only lead to a stringent asceticism as the basis 
of ethical teaching, and as a matter of fact, a study of the 
great Gnostics shows that they did teach just such an 

The great Gnostics, Basilides, Valentinus and Marcion, were 
Christians as well, but this did not prevent their being per- 
fectly good Gnostics, and it is certain that their asceticism 
was not of Christian origin, for in their day Christianity had 
developed very little asceticism ; it was rather they who first 
introduced it into Christianity on a large scale. A study of 
their asceticism will therefore show the typically Gnostic 
theories on the subject. 

For Basilides, marriage was at best a concession to men, 
and he strongly advised abstention from it; though he re- 
garded the sexual appetite as natural, he said that it was by 
no means imperative, and held that it was better not to gratify 
it. 41 He also taught the purifying virtues of suffering an 
idea which is at the basis of all highly developed asceticism, 
and which has already been met with. " Tribulations and 
sufferings expiate, purify and correct," he taught. " They 

40 For Gnostic dualism, see Bousset, Hauptprobleme der Gnosis (1907), 
pp. 91ff. 

41 deFaye, Gnostiques et Gnosticisme (1913) , p. 27; cf. Bousset, p. 95. 


constitute the punishment which saves, the fcoXaarripiov, and 
are consequently a good thing. Basilides says so expressly. 
He declares that they are the result of the goodness of ' him 
who leads all things.' The martyr is a privileged person. 
The expiation which he undergoes is more glorious than that 
which falls to ordinary believers.' 742 Like him, his son 
Isidore also taught a most rigorous asceticism. For both, 
asceticism was a way of redemption, and it was to it that they 
gave their entire attention. 43 

Valentinus was preoccupied with much the same question 
and gave a similar answer. His fundamental theories of the 
distinction of soul and body, and that the body is the source 
of all evil and the enemy to be routed, naturally led to 
asceticism; in fact, he made this an essential part of what 
amounts to a veritable doctrine of sin and redemption. 
"With these views, Valentinus could not fail to become an 
ascetic in morals. In the final analysis, redemption, for him, 
consisted in the elimination of the corporal element, in the 
mortification of the flesh, in a sort of inward death. To 
realize this ideal was the privilege of spiritual men." 44 

Marcion, too, was an ascetic, and even went so far in this 
regard that some accused him of being a Cynic. He con- 
demned the flesh and forbade marriage. If married, his dis- 
ciples had to renounce all sexual relations. " Tertullian con- 
stantly finds fault with him on this account. ' Caro in nuptio 
tollitur/ he said. 'Why does he impose chastity upon this 
infirm and unworthy flesh, whether this is to be considered a 
burden or a glory ? ' " 45 Marcion even made continence a 
condition of baptism. " Marcion does not baptise flesh unless 
it is virgin or widow or celibate, or unless it has bought bap- 
tism by a divorce. This institution is born of the condemna- 
tion of marriage." 46 He even carried his asceticism into his 

42 de Faye, p. 30; references to fr. in -Clem. Al. Strom. IV 12, 83. 
de Faye, pp. 27, 34. 

44 de Faye, p. 42 ; Clem. Al. Strom. IV 13, 89. 

45 de Faye, p. 147 ; Tertullian, adv. Marc. I 28. 

46 Ter. adv. Marc. I 29. 


theory of the world, and became a complete pessimist. " It 
may be asked whether it was his doctrine of God which, as a 
logical consequence, made Marcion an ascetic, or whether it 
was his asceticism, which was older than his theological ideas, 
which found a plausible excuse in these. It seems probable 
that Marcion, like all the fervent souls of his time, philoso- 
phers as well as Christians, early felt strong ascetic tenden- 
cies. When he had once established his great principle of 
the opposition between the supreme God and the creator, he 
saw in it the most solid foundation for virtue as he under- 
stood it. His doctrine of God strengthened his asceticism, 
and gave it a more precise form." 47 

Such were the ascetic tendencies of the oriental religions 
which entered the Roman Empire during the first centuries 
of our era. In the following chapters it will be shown what 
effect these had upon subsequent Greek speculation. 

47 de Faye, pp. 147-8; Bousset, p. 111. 


The new elements of the Greek religion which appeared 
during the centuries following Alexander were not, therefore, 
of indigenous origin, but were importations from the Orient. 
As much may be said for the ascetic tendencies of the age 
which were strictly religious : they were of eastern origin and 
were introduced into the Occident along with the religions of 
which they formed a part. If it were not for the fact that 
these oriental religions and this oriental asceticism affected 
Greek speculation on the subject to a remarkable extent, there 
would be no occasion for mentioning the religious asceticism 
of the period at all here. But it is undeniable that such an 
influence was actually exercised, so a brief account of the 
oriental asceticism and its theory was essential to an under- 
standing of the later Greek asceticism. 

But though the Greek religion, properly so called, did not 
develop greatly during the period of the Hellenistic and Ro- 
man Empires, the Greek mind had not lost its originality nor 
had it ceased to speculate. The only difference was that this 
speculation began to flow in other channels. As has been 
pointed out above, the old official religions had become unten- 
able for a large part of the people, and new means had there- 
fore to be found for satisfying their religious needs. One 
means that was tried, the introduction of new cults, has been 
described ; another equally important one was found in what 
were known as philosophical schools. 

A movement towards the establishment of such schools 
arose among the immediate disciples of Socrates, who divided 
themselves up into groups, Cyrenaics, Megareans, Cynics, etc. 
As time went on, these sects and their successors received 



an ever-increasing attention, until in the early years of the 
Roman Empire, when they reached their fullest development, 
the majority of the upper class people had attached themselves 
to one school or another. These schools, therefore, filled a dis- 
tinctly religious need, and their teaching took an increasingly 
religious aspect ; they cannot be called religions, however, for 
they lacked one thing that is essential to every religion, namely, 
a cult. But if these schools were not religions, neither was 
their teaching philosophy in the strictest sense of the term. 
Though it is unquestionably true that many of these schools, 
and particularly the Stoics, did produce philosophers of note, 
still the name philosopher cannot be applied to every one who 
was a member of one of these schools. Philosophy, as now 
understood, is a discipline to which but few have either the 
leisure or the ability to devote themselves, and which includes 
the formulation of a reasoned view of life and the universe. 
These schools, and especially the more popular ones, did not 
do this: they appealed to a wider class of people than could 
interest themselves in such problems, and what they gave 
these people was a set of maxims for the conduct of life. 
Some may have developed upon these maxims and thus formu- 
lated a real philosophy (as was the case with Seneca, for ex- 
ample, whose writings will be examined in the next chapter) , 
but the vast majority of the adherents to the schools did not: 
they contented themselves with regulating their lives accord- 
ing to the precepts of their school, so the schools may be called 
ethical schools and their thought ethical thought ; their asceti- 
cism was ethical asceticism. 

These ethical schools were numerous, each catering to a dif- 
ferent sort of people, and each supplying a different sort of 
ethical system. The one which best illustrates the ascetic 
tendencies of the day is that of the Cynics. 

Cynicism claimed to go back to the Socratic teaching; it 
claimed as its founder Antisthenes, who is described in Xeno- 
phon's Memorabilia and Symposium. But its real founder 


was Diogenes of Sinope, who flourished in the middle of the 
fourth century. After him came Crates and various lesser 
disciples, but after about the middle of the third century we 
lose track of the school. But in the first century B.C. it re- 
emerged, and from then until the time of St. Augustine it 
remained one of the most prominent of the ethical schools. 

Cynicism has been spoken of as a the philosophy of the 
Greek proletariat." 1 Though there were brilliant exceptions, 
such as Hipparchia, the majority of the followers of this 
school were of plebeian origin. They made it their mission in 
life to carry on an uncompromising warfare against all the 
institutions of their day, political, religious and other, and 
the method they chose for doing this was to ridicule and 
abuse. The Diatribe, an abusive, scurrilous and sometimes 
vulgar, but always witty harangue, became their favorite form 
of discourse : they so popularized it that it became the stand- 
ard form for all agitators with a message, and traces of it are 
clearly observable in the epistles of St. Paul and St. James. 2 
They foreswore all the comforts of civilization themselves, 
and wandered about from place to place, delivering their dia- 
tribes, and living as best they could; they have frequently 
been compared to the begging friars of later ages. 3 

The cardinal point in the Cynics' teaching was the supreme 
value of virtue, and the utter insignificance of everything 
else: if other things were not positively bad, they were at 
least indifferent and unworthy of a man's efforts. Wisdom 
itself they classified among indifferent things. They allowed 
of no distinctions between men except on the basis of virtue 
alone: rich and poor, freeman and slave, wise and foolish, 
Greek and barbarian were all alike to them, except in so far 
as one excelled another in virtue. Moreover, they saw in 
civilization the chief enemy of virtue. According to their 

iGomperz, Greek Thinkers, II, p. 148 (Eng. tr.). 

2 Wendland, Philo und die Tcynisch-stoische Diatribe (1895); Die ur- 
christliche Literaturformen (1912) ; R. Bultman, Der Stil der paulin- 
ischen Predigt und die IcyniscJi-stoiscJie Diatribe (1910). 

sBernays, Lucian und die Kyniker (1879), p. 99. 


doctrine, the philosopher should show himself absolutely in- 
dependent of civilization and society, and even of other per- 
sons, and devote himself entirely to the pursuit of virtue. 
Hence came the eccentricities and bizzareries for which the 
founders of the school are famous : we all know of the numer- 
ous legends of which Diogenes is the hero, of his life in a 
barrel, of his scanty clothes, his attempts to do without fire 
by eating his meat raw, of his disregard for social conventions 
and usages which resulted in the completest shamelessness ; 
these were all means by which he sought to express his entire 
self-sufficiency and to lead a life in harmony with nature. 4 
But exactly what they meant by virtue, beyond this inde- 
pendence and life of nature, is by no means clear : it is a fact 
that their teaching was largely of a negative character. 

Because of their emphasis upon a renunciation of the goods 
of civilization, the Cynics found some of the phases of the 
Socratic teaching particularly sympathetic : in a former chap- 
ter extracts were quoted illustrating Socrates's contempt for 
the goods of this world though as modified by Platonic ideal- 
ism. The Cynics seized upon these same things, but gave 
them a very different interpretation, for they were radical 
empiricists. 5 Starting from these premises, they developed 
a rule of life which from the first bore great resemblance to 
that of ascetics, and which later had a very great influence 
upon the development of asceticism. They taught that life 
was a constant struggle against evils and Hercules became 

* These stories came mostly from Diogenes Laertius, Bk. VI, and 
Clement of Alexandria; they can be taken for what they are worth. Cf. 
Schwartz, CharaTcterkopfe aus der antiJcen Literatur, Zweite Reihe, I, 
"Diogenes der Hund und Krates der Kyniker. " 

5 The contempt in which Plato and the Cynics mutually held each 
other was due no doubt in part to the differences in their social status, 
and in part to their radical philosophical differences. Thus Simplicius 
(Categ. Schol. in Arist. 66b45) tells how Antisthenes said to Plato, "I 
can see a horse, but not the idea of a horse." Plato replied, "True, 
for you have the eye with which one sees a horse, but you are deficient 
in the eye with which one sees the idea of a horse." 


their patron god. They compared life to the struggles of an 
athlete (tradition says that one of the early Cynics was a 
boxer before he was won for philosophy) and it was from 
them that came the many similes to the prize-ring, of which 
moralists in the Eoman Empire, such as Seneca or St. Paul, 
were so fond. 

As a matter of fact, this is about all that the asceticism of 
the earlier Cynicism amounted to: every philosopher should 
be free from dependence upon anything, so should denounce 
and reject all things; he should do all in his power to harden 
himself against them, and to the practices employed to this 
end, they gave the name aa-fcyo-is. It has already been seen 
that certain of the sophists used this term to designate the 
mode of life by which one should live; the Cynics did the 
same, only their mode of life was a much more rigorous one, 
and demanded acts which had never been demanded before. 
As has been seen, the Cynics did this as a reaction against 
the reigning social order, and not because they had another 
which they wished to introduce : their ideal of aperr) consisted 
largely in foreswearing all civilization, which they considered 
the cause of all vice, and by returning to the happy state of 
nature. They taught that if a man should train himself by 
asceticism, he would be freed from the temptations of the 
world and its lusts. It was in this that the Cynics differed 
from Plato : Plato saw the chief enemy of the philosophic life 
in the body, but the Cynics saw it in civilization; Plato 
urged that one chastise the body, but the Cynics, with their 
teaching that naturalia, non sunt turpia, were willing to in- 
dulge such passions as they considered natural (as the sexual 
passion), frequently in a most shameless way; Plato sought 
things which were ideal and social, the Cynics sought things 
which were empirical and individual. Thus Diogenes gave 
himself no pains to chastise his sinful body, but fortified it 
against desire. When some one asked him what a philoso- 
pher should eat, he replied, " Whatever he can get, just like 


anybody else." The Cynic life consisted in seeking 

and the way it did this was by avoiding the lusts and desires 

engendered by the civilization against which it was a revolt. 

Such was the asceticism of the early Cynics. It was 
clearly the product of the time which produced it the deca- 
dent Greece of the fourth century. From the third to the 
first century before Christ, following upon the conquests of 
Alexander, things picked up a little in Greece, and the Cynics 
became less prominent. But after the Roman conquest, a 
decline again began and the school once more came into promi- 
nence. A Neo-Cynicism then arose which continued the tra- 
ditional sturdy rebelliousness of the early school; once more 
all the institutions of society were subjected to the attacks of 
popular wandering beggars who professed allegiance to the 
doctrines of Diogenes. 

The historians of the Imperial period frequently speak of 
Cynic preachers, but after all, one of our best sources for 
these Cynics is Lucian, who seems to have taken a great in- 
terest in them, even though his accounts are far from sympa- 
thetic. In many of his writings, such as On the Death of 
Peregrinus, Zeus Cross-Examined, Cynicus, or The Sale of 
Creeds, he gives descriptions of Cynics and their mode of 
life which are most enlightening. 

Thus as a description of the typical Cynic, one may quote 
the words, "Who are you, anyway? You have a beard and 
long hair, but no shirt, and your skin shows ; you go barefoot, 
choosing a wandering and inhuman life like the beasts ; un- 
like others, you make your body the object of your austerities, 
and you constantly go about from place to place, sleeping only 
on the hard ground, so that that philosopher's cloak is disgust- 
ingly dirty, though it never was fine or soft or bright col- 
ored." 6 Dressed in such a uniform and leading such a life, 
the Cynics travelled over the whole empire, giving frequent 
examples of their outspokenness, not even hesitating to de- 

Luc. Cyn. 1. 


nounce the Emperor to his face in the theater, 7 and carrying 
on a warfare against the popular religions which was scarcely 
less bitter than that waged by the Christians. 8 

The positive side of their creed, in so far as there was any, 
consisted in a preaching of brotherhood (faXavOpcojria) and a 
promise of liberty to those who followed their mode of life. 
But in the main, now as in the earlier period, the chief item 
in their creed was the utter worthlessness of all the mundane 
things upon which men ordinarily set their hearts. The life 
and in particular the death of a celebrated Cynic of the second 
century, Peregrinus, make this clear. 

In his essay On the Death of Peregrinus, Lucian tells the 
story of this man. He was born in Armenia, but while still 
a young man he commenced to follow the wandering life of a 
Cynic. Lucian says that for a while he was associated with 
the Christians in Palestine, who made much of him ; he was 
arrested but presently dismissed. He returned to Armenia ; 
"his hair (even in these early days) is long, his cloak is 
shabby ; at his side is flung the philosopher's wallet, his hand 
grasps the philosopher's staff." He distributed all the wealth 
which had been left him by his father ; when the people heard 
the news, they said, "Here is true philosophy; the spirit of 
true philosophy is here." 9 Presently, after severing his con- 
nection with the Christians, he made a trip of Egypt. " Here 
he went through the most interesting course of discipline : he 
shaved half of his head bare, anointed his face with mud, 
grossly exposed himself before a large number of spectators 
as a practical illustration of i Stoic indifference, 7 received cas- 
tigation with a birch rod, administered the same, and mysti- 
fied the public with a number of still more extravagant 
follies." 1 Then he went to Rome, where he commenced to 

7 This is said to have happened to Titus, Sueton. Tit. 7 ; other examples 
are given by Luc. de Morte Per. 17, 18 ; Dion Cass. 66, 5, 13. Cf . Ber- 
nays, p. 29. 

s Luc. Zeus Conf.; Vit. Auct. 8. Bernays, p. 32ff. 

Luc. de Morte Per. 15. 

10 Hid. 17. 


abuse everybody, and particularly the Emperor, until he was 
expelled from the city ; " he was in every one's mouth as the 
philosopher who was banished for being too outspoken, and 
saying what he thought. He took place with Musonius, Dion 
and Epictetus. 7711 Finally he went to Greece, and there con- 
ceived the idea of closing his life by publicly cremating him- 
self at the Olympic games. He appeared at an important 
moment during the games, to announce his resolution and ex- 
plain it : Lucian tells us how he talked about " the life he had 
lived, the risks he had run, the trials he had undergone in 
the cause of philosophy. . . . Upon a golden life he desired 
to set a golden crown. He had lived like Heracles: like 
Heracles he must die, and mingle with the upper air. ' It 
is my aim, 7 he continued, ' to benefit mankind ; to teach them 
how contemptible a thing is death.'" 12 A pyre was pre- 
pared, and it was announced that the cremation would take 
place at midnight. " Then Proteus (i.e., Peregrinus) threw 
aside his scrip and cloak and club his club of Heracles 
and stood before them in scrupulously unclean linen. He de- 
manded frankincense to throw upon the fire ; being supplied, 
he first threw it on, then, turning to the south, he exclaimed : 
'Gods of my mother, gods of my father, receive me with 
favor. 7 With these words he leaped into the fire. 7713 Nat- 
urally this act aroused the greatest interest and many came 
to regard Peregrinus as superhuman ; legends grew up about 
him, statues were erected to him. 14 

Lucian 7 s entire treatment of the story of Peregrinus is 
most severe. He ascribed all of his activity to the basest 
motives, particularly love of notoriety, and pictured him as a 
most blatant impostor. But it is far from certain that this 
is a just estimation of him. The great Cynic made a very 
different impression upon Aulus Gellius, who had frequently 

11 Hid. 18. 

12 Ibid. 32, 33. 
is Ibid. 36. 

i* /did. 40, 41. 


visited him during his student days at Athens, and who found 
him a serious and high-minded man. 15 It is an undeniable 
fact that Cynicism did appeal to persons in the lower classes 
of society, and undoubtedly it attracted many unscrupulous 
impostors, but it is equally certain that many Cynics had 
lofty characters, and it is quite possible that in his self- 
immolation Peregrinus sincerely wished to give men a prac- 
tical lesson teaching contempt of death. 16 

Another Cynic, with much the same gospel, but a very dif- 
ferent method of teaching it, was the gentle sage Demonax. 
His character was such that he even won the admiration of 
that universal scoffer Lucian, who had " long consorted with 
him," and who wrote his biography "to keep his memory 
green, and provide the most earnest of those who aspire to 
philosophy with a contemporary pattern." 17 A Cyprian by 
birth, he came of an influential family, but " his views soared 
above such things as wealth ; he claimed nothing less than the 
highest, and devoted himself to philosophy." 18 His teachers, 
Epictetus, Demetrius and others, taught him to lay the great- 
est stress upon self-sufficiency, freedom from fear and hope, 
and a good disposition. " He took independence and candor 
for his guiding principles, lived himself an upright, whole- 
some, irreproachable life, and exhibited to all who saw or 
heard him the model of his own disposition and philosophic 
sincerity. . . . He was consistent enough, when he found 
that he could no longer suffice to himself, to depart volun- 
tarily from life, leaving a great reputation behind him among 
the nobility of Greece." 19 Lucian has preserved for us many 

is Aul. Gell. xii, 11. 

i Cf. Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, pp. 356ff.; 
M. Croisset, Un ascete paien au siecle des Antonius. Peregrinus Protee, 
in the Memoires . . . del 'Academie . . . de Montpellier, 1880, vol. vi, pp. 
455-491. Zeller, Alexander und Peregrinus, in Deutsche Rundschau, 
Sept., 1876. 

17 Luc. Demon. 1, 2. 

is Hid. 3. 

is Hid. 3, 4. 


of his biting criticisms of men of his day, and also his teach- 
ing of the insignificant value of worldly goods. " To all 
who repined at poverty, resented exile, or complained of old 
age or bad health, he administered laughing consolation, and 
bade them not forget how soon their troubles would be over, 
the distinction between good and bad be obsolete, and long 
freedom succeed to short-lived distress." 20 He lived to be 
nearly a hundred years old, free from disease and pain, bur- 
dening no man, asking no man's favors, serving his friends, 
and having no enemies. Not Athens only, but all Greece 
was so in love with him that as he passed, great men would 
give him place and there would be a general hush. Baker 
wives would contend for the honor of supplying him, while 
children used to call him father and make him presents of 
fruit. 21 When he died, the Athenians gave him a public 
funeral, his body was borne to the grave by philosophers, and 
his memory held sacred. 22 

The best account of the Cynics, however, and the most 
sympathetic, is the one given by Epictetus, 23 who was himself 
a Cynic or nearly one. According to him, the true Cynic 
"must know that he is sent a messenger from Zeus to men 
about good and bad things, to show them that they have wan- 
dered and are seeking the substance of good and evil where 
it is not, but where it is they never think. ... In fact the 
Cynic is a spy of the things which are good for men and 
which are evil, and it is his duty to examine carefully and 
to come and report truly, and not to be struck with terror 
so as to point out as enemies things which are not enemies, 
nor in any other way to be perturbed by appearances nor con- 
founded." 24 " Man, the Cynic is the father of all men ; the 
men are his sons, the women are his daughters: he so care- 

20 Ibid. 8. 
Ibid. 63. 

22 Ibid. 67. 

23 Diss. iii 22. 

24 ibid. 23-25 (Schenkl). 


fully visits all, so well does he care for all. Do you think 
that it is from idle impatience that he rebukes those whom 
he meets ? He does it as a father, as a brother, and as the 
minister of the father of all, the minister of Zeus." 25 Such 
is the lofty calling of the true Cynic, and one must constantly 
labor to make himself worthy of it. 

In the course of his essay, Epictetus gives several examples 
of Cynic diatribes, which well illustrate the teachings of his 
school. Thus he teaches that power and happiness are not 
to be found in external things. "You seek for prosperity 
and happiness where they are not," the ideal Cynic teacher 
is made to declaim, " and if another shows you where they 
are, you do not believe him. Why do you seek it without ? 
In the body ? It is not there. If you doubt, look at Myro, 
look at Ophellius. In possessions ? It is not there. But if 
you do not believe me, look at Croesus : look at those who are 
now rich, with what lamentations their life is filled. In 
power? It is not there. If it were, those would be happy 
who have been twice or thrice consuls, but they are not." 26 
Again, he holds himself up as a model of how one should act 
to be happy, and incidentally gives an excellent picture of 
a Cynic : 

"And how is it possible that a man who has nothing, who is 
naked, houseless, without a hearth, squalid, without a slave, with- 
out a city, can pass a life that flows easily? See, God has sent 
you a man to show you by his acts that it is possible. Look at 
me, who am without city, without a house, without possessions, 
without a slave; I sleep on the ground, I have no wife, no chil- 
dren, no praetormm, but only the earth and heavens, and one 
poor cloak. And what do I want ? Am I not without sorrow ? 
am I not without fear? am I not free? When did any of you 
see me failing in the object of my desire? or falling into that 
which I would avoid? Did I ever blame God or man? did I 

25 ma. 81-82. 

26 Ibid. 26-27. 


ever accuse any man ? did any of you ever see me with a sorrowful 
countenance? And how do I meet with those whom you are 
afraid of and admire ? Do I not treat them like slaves ? Who, 
when he sees me,, does not think that he sees his king and 
master?" 27 

To become a true Cynic " in the first place, in the things which 
relate to yourself, you must not be in any respect like what you 
are now : you must not blame God or man : you must take away 
desire altogether, you must transfer avoidance only to the things 
which are within the power of the will : you must not feel anger 
nor resentment nor envy nor pity ; a girl must not appear hand- 
some to you, nor must you love a little reputation, nor be pleased 
with a boy or a cake." 28 

Since the Cynic has this high calling of reproving other 
people's vices, he must be very careful to suppress his own. 
As Epictetus says : 

" Before all, the Cynic's ruling faculty must be purer than the 
sun; and if it is not, he must necessarily be a cunning knave 
and a fellow of no principle, since while he is himself entangled 
in some vice he will reprove others. For see how the matter 
stands: to these kings and tyrants, their guards and arms give 
the power of reproving some persons, and of being able even to 
punish those who do wrong, though they are themselves bad ; but 
to a Cynic, instead of arms and guards, it is conscience which 
gives this power. When he knows that he has watched and 
labored for mankind, and has slept pure, and sleep has left him 
still purer, and that he has thought whatever he has thought as a 
friend of the gods, as a minister, as a participator of the power 
of Zeus, and that on all occasions he is ready to say, 'Lead me, 
Zeus, and thou, Destiny ' ; and also, if it so pleases the gods, 
so let it be ; why should he not have confidence to speak freely to 
his own brothers, to his children, in a word, to his kinsmen ? " 29 

27 iud. 45-49. 

28 ma. 13. 

20 Ibid. 93-96. 


The Cynic, above all men, must not indulge in the com- 
forts of civilization, even friendship : this is not only because 
these are really not good, but also because he must give all his 
strength to following his high calling. A young man asked 
Epictetus if a Cynic, when sick, might go to the house of a 
friend to be cared for, and received as a reply : 

" And where shall you find, I ask, a Cynic's friend ? For the 
man who invites ought to be such another as the Cynic, that he 
may be worthy of being reckoned the Cynic's friend. He ought 
to be a partner in the Cynic's scepter and his royalty, and a 
worthy minister, if he intends to be considered worthy of a 
Cynic's friendship, as Diogenes was a friend of Antisthenes, as 
Crates was a friend of Diogenes. Do you think that if a man 
comes to a Cynic and salutes him, that he is the Cynic's friend, 
and that the Cynic will think him worthy of receiving a Cynic 
into his house ? So that if you please, reflect on this also : rather 
look around for some convenient dunghill upon which you shall 
bear your fever and which will shelter you from the north wind 
that you may not be chilled. But you seem to me to wish to go 
to some man's house and to be well fed there for a time. Why 
then do you think of attempting so great a thing as the life of a 
Cynic?" 30 

ISTor is marriage permitted to a true Cynic: a wife and 
children would impose upon him cares and duties which he 
has not the right to take, 31 for his services are demanded for 
all humanity, who are his children. What the Cynic gives 
society is of more value than many children. 

"In the name of God, are those men greater benefactors to 
society who introduce into the world to occupy their own pleas- 
ures two or three grunting children, or those who superintend, as 
far as they can, all mankind, and see what they do, how they live, 
what they attend to, what they neglect contrary to their duty." 32 

so Hid. 62-66. 
si Ibid. 69ff. 
32 lUd. 77. 


But Epictetus has the sharpest criticism for the Cynics of 
his day. He speaks with contempt of " the present Cynics 
who are dogs that wait at tables, and in no respect imitate 
the Cynics of old, except perhaps in breaking wind, but in 
nothing else." 33 He denounces the dirtiness which was so 
characteristic of the Cynics of his day, and urges all true 
Cynics to maintain a respectable appearance. 

" It is necessary for a Cynic to have a certain habit of body : 
for if he appears to be consumptive, thin and pale, his testimony 
has not then the same weight. For he must not only by showing 
the qualities of his soul prove to the vulgar that it is in his 
power, independent of the things which they admire, to be a good 
man, but he must also show by his body that his simple and 
frugal way of living in the open air does not even injure the 
body. See, he says, I am a proof of this, and my own body also 
is. So Diogenes used to do, for he used to go about fresh-look- 
ing, and he attracted the notice of many by his personal appear- 
ance. But if a Cynic is an object of compassion, he seems to be 
a beggar: all persons turn away from him. He ought not to 
appear dirty, so as not to drive away men by it; but his very 
roughness ought to be clean and attractive." 34 

During this same period, there were many other popular 
teachers who were not avowed Cynics, but who shared many 
of their doctrines and methods of teaching. One of these, 
who lived in the early years of the Eoman Empire, was 
Musonius Rufus. The fragments of his diatribes which re- 
main fill only a small book, but one of these is entitled Trepl 
aovcTjWe)?, and well serves to show how much he was in sym- 
pathy with the ideas already described. His idea of virtue 
was a very practical one, requiring constant effort and prac- 
tice, or a07C77<m. "He strongly urged askesis upon those 
hearing him, always using these words: f Virtue/ he would 
say, 'is not theoretical knowledge only, but also practical, 
like medicine or music." 35 Then through several pages his 

ibid. so. 

a* Ibid. 86-89. 

ss Muson. p. 22, ed. Hense. 


idea of the ascetic life is developed, in terms which parallel 
those of his contemporaries. " The ascetic must lead a supe- 
rior life, not be pleased with pleasure, nor avoid pain, not 
love life nor fear death, and not esteem possessions so much 
that he will set himself to acquiring them." 36 

Contemporary with this revival of Cynicism, came a re- 
vival of Pythagoreanism as a popular ethical system. The 
older Pythagoreanism had continued down to the end of the 
fourth century, for frequent references to abstinence from 
beans and flesh are found in the Middle Comedy, 37 but 
during the two following centuries we hear very little of the 
school and its tenets. In the last century before our era, 
however, there was a great revival of interest in the Pytha- 
gorean rule of life, and from that time until the end of the 
antique world, the tradition remained unbroken. A frag- 
ment of Alexander Polyhistor speaks of Neo-Pythagoreans 
in his time (B.C. 80-69) ; 38 a contemporary of Cicero, 
Nigidius Figulus, established the school at Rome. After 
that time the number of ]STeo-Pythagoreans was more numer- 
ous : in the first century there were Apollonius of Tyana and 
Moderatus as the most eminent, in the second century, Nicho- 
machus and JSTumenius, in the third, Philostratus, while 
others, such as Jamblichus and Porphyry, were profoundly 
interested in these doctrines. 

At this period the school was of a popular nature. Many 
of its teachers, like Apollonius of Tyana, went about in a 
manner almost like that of the Cynics, just described ; others 
adopted more literary methods of propaganda, and wrote 
numerous popular books, such as the numerous lives of Pytha- 
goras, 39 Philostratus's life of Apollonius, or Porphyry's tract 

36 Hid., p. 27. 

37 Vid. sup., p. 42, n. 40. 
ss Diog. Laert. VIII 24ff. 

3 Lives were written by Moderatus, Nichomachus, Antonius, Apol- 
lonius, Porphyry, Jamblichus, etc. Cf. Bohde, Die Quellen des Jam- 
blichus in seiner Biographic des Pythagoras, in Kleine Schriften, II, 
pp. 102-172. 


against animal food. Some members of the school, it is to 
be admitted, were more profound philosophers, and developed 
ideas upon the One and the Many, and God and Matter, which 
were used by the N~eo-Platonists later, but for most of its 
members, the E"eo-Pythagorean school confined itself to offer- 
ing the Pythagorean rule as a guide to life. 

This rule was supposed to be the one taught by Pythagoras 
himself. Here are the terms in which Jamblichus described 
the teaching of the master : " the best polity, popular concord, 
community of possessions among friends, the worship of the 
gods, piety to the dead, legislation, erudition, silence, absti- 
nence from animals, continence, temperance, sagacity, divin- 
ity, and in a word, whatever is sought after by lovers of 
learning, was brought to light by Pythagoras." 40 The ascetic 
features of the rule were obvious : five years of silent contem- 
plation were demanded, 41 meat or beans could not be eaten, 42 
and abstinence from wine was required ; 43 some went beyond 
the letter of the rule, and rejected marriage. 44 

These two distinct schools show how great was the propa- 
ganda during the early part of the Roman Empire which 
taught the renunciation of the goods of this world, and urged 
a veritably ascetic mode of life. The two schools which have 
been mentioned, the Cynics and the Neo-Pythagoreans, ex- 
emplified these tendencies more clearly than any others, but 
they were not unique. There was a host of other popular 
preachers, who attached themselves to no school in particular, 
but who taught the same doctrines that have already been 
outlined. One example of this type is the celebrated Dion 
Chrysostom, whose preserved orations contain ascetic senti- 
ments in great quantities, but ones differing but little from 
what has already been seen. 45 Another example of the popu- 

*o Jamb. Vit. Pyth. 6, cf . 20ff. 

4iPhilostr. Vit. Apol. I 14; Luc. Vit. Auct. 3. 

42Philostr. I 8, 21; II 6, 26, etc.; Luc. Vit. Auct. 6. 

43philostr. 18; II 7; etc. 

Philostr. I 13. 

*5 Cf. von Arnim, Das ~Leben und WerTce des Dion von Prusa (1898). 


lar teaching of the day is found in Seneca's account of his 
early training, which is worth quoting in full. 

" Indeed, as I heard Attains declaiming against the vices, the 
errors and the evil of life, I frequently bewailed the human race, 
and I believed him sublime and above human rank. He said of 
himself that he was king. But to me he seemed something more, 
for he justly censured kings. When he commenced to commend 
poverty, and to show that whatever was superfluous was an un- 
necessary burden and hardly to be borne, it frequently seemed 
pleasant to go forth from the school poor. When he com- 
menced to accuse our pleasures and to praise a chaste body, a 
sober table, and a mind free not only from illicit pleasures but 
also from superfluous ones, it was pleasant to restrain gluttony 
and the belly. A part of this still persists with me, Luculus, for 
I approached all with great enthusiasm. When reduced to civil 
life, I retained a few of the things thus well begun. Because of 
this, I have renounced oysters and mushrooms during my whole 
life. For they are not food but amusement, encouraging those 
who are already filled to eat more, which is most pleasant to the 
gluttonous and those stuffing themselves with more than they can 
hold, as they descend readily and are as readily given back. Be- 
cause of this, I have, during my whole life, abstained from per- 
fume, since the best odor for the body is none at all. Because 
of this, my stomach has ever gone without wine. Because of this, 
I have fled warm baths all my life, believing that they weaken the 
body, while seething it is a useless and over delicate thing. 
Though I have broken off from complete abstinence from certain 
other things, there remains a severe rule of life which is almost 
abstinence, and which may even be more difficult, since it is 
easier to cut some things off from the soul altogether than to 
temper them. 

" Since I have begun to explain to you with how much greater 
enthusiasm I approached philosophy as a youth than I now pro- 
ceed with it as an old man, I shall not shame to say with what 
love Pythagoras inspired me. Sotion told me why he had ab- 
stained from animals, and why Sextius subsequently did. Their 
reasons were different, but both were magnificent. . . . When 


Sotion had exposed these things and completed them with argu- 
ments of his own, he used to say, ' Do you not believe that souls 
are placed in other bodies and other things, and that what we 
call death is a migration? Do you not believe that what was 
formerly the soul of a man still survives in the beasts or cattle 
or the fish of the sea? Do you not believe that nothing perishes 
in this world, but only changes place? and that the celestial 
bodies are not turned through given orbits any more than animate 
ones go through their changes in order and are driven through 
the world to souls ? Great men have believed that. Therefore, 
suspend your judgment for a while and think these matters over 
carefully. If things really are thus, to abstain from animals is 
innocense; if this is false, to do so is frugality. What part of 
your credulity is destroyed here? I snatch from you the food 
of lions and vultures/ Incited by such exhortations, I com- 
menced to abstain from animals, and after the lapse of a year, 
this custom was not only easy for me but also pleasant. I be- 
lieved that my mind was more active, nor today can I affirm that 
this was not the case. Do you ask how I came to stop ? Well, 
the period of my youth fell in the first years of the reign of 
Tiberius Caesar. At that time foreign priests were expelled, 
and among the arguments for their superstition was placed the 
abstinence of some of them from meat. So upon being re- 
quested by my father, who did not fear calumny but who hated 
philosophy, I returned to my original custom. Nor was it hard 
for him to persuade me to take up a better fare. 

" Attalus also used to praise a mattress which would resist the 
body : even as an old man, I use one in which an impression can- 
not remain. I have related these things in order that I might 
prove to you how eagerly the young recruits receive the first 
impulse towards the good." 46 

The question of the origin of this asceticism is a compli- 
cated one. It has been seen that Cynicism and Pythagorean- 
ism traced their origins back to the earlier period of Greek 
history, the one to certain phases of the Socratic teaching, and 
the other to the Greek Pythagoras. To a great extent the 
Sen. Ep. ad Luc. 108, 13-17, 20-23. 


movement was the development of germs found in Greece 
from early times ; social conditions became such that a teach- 
ing of the slight value of worldly gains became desirable, so 
certain persons developed these previously existing germs. 
But on the other hand, it has been seen that at just this time 
there was a great influx of oriental ascetics into the Empire : 
their asceticism, too, had the redeeming features which were 
so sorely needed by the age, and must have suggested many 
things to their contemporary Greek fellow teachers. As a 
matter of fact, if the teaching of these Greek schools is exam- 
ined, many traces of such oriental influence will be observed. 
The similarities between the Cynics and the Galli are patent, 
and undoubtedly many Cynics consciously imitated these wor- 
shippers of Cybele. It is a very significant fact that Pere- 
grinus underwent his severest asceticism in Egypt where, as 
has been seen, native asceticism was strong, and tended to- 
wards the extravagances recorded of Peregrinus during his 
stay there. Many of the ascetic practices indulged in at this 
period were quite foreign to occidental peoples: Seneca ob- 
jected to ascetics who castrated themselves, 47 but this act was 
something unknown to the Greeks and Romans, so was un- 
doubtedly suggested by the orientals. It may even be asked 
whether the " scrupulous filthiness " of the later Cynics was 
not an imported feature, for, as Epictetus has been seen to 
point out, this was foreign to Diogenes. The lives of Pytha- 
goras dating from this period say that he learned his wisdom 
from the Egyptians and Babylonians ; the first books of Phi- 
lostratus's life of Apollonius are devoted to a journey he is 
said to have made to India to learn the wisdom of the Hindus 
which wisdom was of course ascetic: these trips to India 
became very common in the popular literature of the day, and 
stories of Indian ascetics became very current. 

Among these Indian stories, that of Calenus, an Indian 
who immolated himself in the time of Augustus, thus becom- 

47 Nat. Q. vii 31, 3. 


ing a hero for many, and perhaps suggesting the idea to Pere- 
grinus, is a pre-eminent one. Strabo tells the story of how 
he came with an embassy to Augustus, and while at Athens, 
in the presence of an astonished crowd and perhaps of the 
Emperor himself, he anointed himself and leaped smilingly 
upon a pyre. A tomb was raised which was visible as late 
as the age of Plutarch, upon which his self-immolation was 
recorded. How much attention this act attracted in the west 
is shown by the numerous references to it in literature; 48 
Josephus even makes his hero Eleazer hold Calanus up as a 
model to his men, 49 and it has been suggested that St. Paul 
had his act in mind when he wrote, " And if I give my body 
to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing." 50 

It is safe to conclude, therefore, that a considerable oriental 
influence was exercised in the development of this popular 
asceticism of the time of the Roman Empire. But it is also 
clear that this oriental influence only modified the form in 
which the Greek ascetic ideas were expressed: it did not 
bring the asceticism itself into being: the social condition of 
the Roman Empire did that. Nor did it contribute the fun- 
damental ideas upon which this asceticism was based, for 
these have been observed in Greece long before this oriental 
influence could have begun. Orientals suggested a few ex- 
travagant acts for outwardly expressing these ideas, but it 
was the Greeks themselves who contributed the idea that all 
mundane things are to be considered as useless or worse, and 
that the body and its cares are the greatest enemy to the soul 
and virtue. 

It may be remarked here, too, that the early Christians 
eagerly seized upon both oriental expression and Greek idea, 
for they found in them a most valuable corollary to their 
teaching of another world an idea which received little at- 
tention among the Greeks whom we have just been studying. 

Strabo xv 1, 73 (270); 4 (686); Dion Cass. 66, 9; Plut. Ft*. Alex. 
69; Clem. Alex. Strom, iv 571; Aelian Far. Hist. v. 6. 
* Jos. Bell. Jud. vii 87. 
so Lightf oot, Colossians, p. 394, n. 2. 



In the preceding chapter it was seen how, beginning in the 
last century before Christ, large numbers of people began 
to give themselves over to all sorts of ascetic practices ; from 
the opening of this century until the end of the pagan world, 
such practices became ever more popular. The persons who 
did such things, however, did not do them from strictly re- 
ligious motives, but rather from, ethical ones : the asceticism 
which has been described was a distinctly ethical asceticism. 
Two different sorts of asceticism have been found in the 
Roman Empire, then, one religious and largely oriental, the 
other ethical, and more distinctly Greek though it too was 
influenced by oriental forces. But there was a third sort 
as well, which must be described before the present study will 
be complete. 

In general, the persons whose activities were described in 
the last chapter were not very philosophic persons ; they were 
not the sort who would think things through and formulate 
a reasoned exposition of the grounds for their conduct ; they 
were content to invoke a few general conceptions and let 
it go at that. But at the same time there were other persons, 
likewise interested in asceticism, who were more deep-think- 
ing. These latter were profoundly influenced by the more 
popular asceticism which they saw about them, and which 
was undoubtedly the determining cause of their own, but 
owing to their character, they could not rest content until 
they had worked out a rationale of the whole thing. These 
more philosophic persons therefore formulated a philosophy 
of asceticism which stated in enduring terms the confusedly- 



felt aspirations of the popular ascetics of their day. Not 
only do they serve to clarify this popular movement, but they 
also show how great a part of the attention of even the highly 
intellectual classes was devoted to such subjects: after the 
time of Christ, all the great thinkers gave much attention to 
the subject, doing so to a greater and greater extent as time 
went on, so that it is possible to say that all the philosophy 
of fading Hellas was a philosophy of asceticism. 

During the period of the Roman Empire, two philosophies 
predominated, Stoicism and Neo-Platonism. Of course there 
were many others, but the eclecticism 1 of the time was so 
great that nearly all the schools shared much the same ideas, 
and differed only in the emphasis which they placed upon 
one idea or another ; much the same results might be obtained 
by a study of others, but the ones which developed the ascetic 
side the most, and which are therefore best adapted for our 
present purposes, are the ones just mentioned. 

The Stoic school arose at the end of the fourth century as 
a development of Cynicism. Zeno, its founder, had been 
attracted towards the Cynics in his youth, and both he and 
his followers always had a high opinion of Cynic virtue. 
Many of the fundamental Cynic ideas, such as those of self- 
sufficiency, impassibility, indifference to externals, were in- 
corporated into Stoicism; the chief difference between the 
two schools, in fact, lay in the polemic nature of the Cynics, 
which the Stoics did not share. The early Stoics, Zeno, 
Cleanthes and Chrysippus, did not give great attention to 
asceticism, and as much may be said for their successors in 
what is sometimes called the Middle Stoa, which is marked 
by Panaetius and Posidonius, who flourished, the former in 
the last half of the second century, the latter in the first half 
of the first B.C. But, as has been seen, there was not much 
asceticism of any kind at this period. This absence of philo- 

i The volume of Zeller which deals with the first part of this period is 
called Eclecticism, in the English translation. 


sophical asceticism merely parallels the absence of any other 
kind, and the general prosperous condition of the Hellenistic 
world. By the time of Posidonius, however, the ascetic 
movement was beginning again, and he is not without im- 
portance for later development. With him a new spirit was 
brought into Stoic thought, and into all Greek speculation for 
that matter, which was destined to have a great effect upon 
subsequent philosophers, for his thought was what served as 
the foundation upon which the later theorists of asceticism 
built. 2 

Posidonius was born at Apamea, a Greek city in Syria, 
about 135 B.C. While still a boy he went to Athens where 
he studied philosophy with Panaetius (m.c. 109) and others, 
and then travelled extensively, going as far as Spain and 
Upper Egypt. He finally settled in Rhodes, of which city 
he became a citizen, and there taught philosophy during the 
remainder of his life. Ancient authors refer to twenty- 
four books said to have been written by him, but of these only 
a few fragments remain, 3 largely preserved in the writings of 
his personal friend Cicero. We do not know the details 
of his doctrines, therefore, but we do know that these doctrines 
had an enormous influence upon subsequent writers, Cicero, 
Seneca, Varro, Philo of Alexandria, Plutarch and others. 
But throughout, Posidonius's originality was slight; he did 
not invent the ideas which he set forth, but collected them. 
For this reason, some take "Posidonius" as the name of a 
body of ideas then current, of a tradition, rather than of a 
person. 4 

Having been a Syrian by birth, Posidonius is believed by 
some to have been influential in introducing a stream of 
oriental mysticism into Greek thought. It is undeniable that 

2 The best modern accounts of Posidonius are in Schmekel, Philosophic 
der mittleren Stoa (1892) esp. pp. 238-90, and Bevan, Stoics and 
Sceptics (1913), ch. iii. 

zPosidonn Shodii reliquae doctrinae, ed. Bake, 1810. 

* Bevan, p. 96. 


just such a mysticism did begin to appear in occidental specu- 
lation at this time, and it is also certain that Posidonius' s 
thought contained many mystical elements, 5 but it cannot be 
proved that these were of oriental origin : they might equally 
well have been derived from Plato. Posidonius left his 
oriental home while still a boy, so he had probably not pene- 
trated deeply into the wisdom of his country, while it is 
known that his thought was in other respects profoundly 
influenced by Plato. But whatever its source may have 
been, it is clear that a considerable amount of mysticism was 
introduced into Stoicism at this time, so if we take the word 
Posidonius in the very broad sense of a tradition then cur- 
rent, oriental influences may have been an important factor, 
even though most of the tradition came from Greek prede- 
cessors. It is this mysticism which makes the period im- 
portant for the student of asceticism, for mysticism and 
asceticism are always kindred things, appealing to the same 
type of mind. 

It is impossible to find any direct teaching about asceticism 
in the fragments of Posidonius ; his importance rather lies in 
the fact that he formulated a theory of the world and its 
nature which was generally accepted by later thinkers. As 
they made it the foundation of their more strictly ascetical 
speculation, a brief description of it is required here. 

Posidonius varied to a certain extent from the strict 
monism of the earlier Stoics by dividing all things into two 
categories, things with bodies and things without bodies, 
matter and spirit. However, both were derived from an 
original being, a sort of fiery breath, the giver of life and 
reason, eternal and divine. This divided into spirit and 
matter. The former was supposed to be infused throughout 
the latter, giving it form and life. The conventional Greek 
division of things into four elements, earth, air, fire and 
water, was accepted. The elements were supposed to be 

eSchmekel, pp. 4QOff. 


arranged in the order of their density, with earth at the 
center, surrounded by water, then by air, and finally by the 
fire outside of all. Thus the one farthest from the earth was 
the purest and the least deviated from its divine origin. As 
was said, spirit was to be found in all sorts of matter ; every- 
thing was alive; the world itself had a soul; but this was 
especially true of plants, still truer of animals, and above all 
the case with men. The dual nature of man was so marked 
that he was in a class by himself, far above animals, and 
even resembling the divine, because of the unusual quality of 
his soul. Men's souls were of the same nature as the 
divinity, 6 an ether ial breath; 7 they were therefore in sharp 
contradistinction to the body, which was but matter, and 
useless and rotten flesh, 8 the support, however, of the God 
dwelling in man. 9 The body was therefore only a chain for 
the soul which hindered and impeded its free movement. 10 
The soul was really independent of the body, having existed 
before it and having come to it for the time being, and would 
undoubtedly continue to exist after it. 11 From this followed 
his rule of ethics: each part of man should (following the 
Cynic-Stoic dictum) live according to nature, which might 
be reduced to saying that man should seek the true and the 
good, the truth as the end of the activity of the spirit, the 
good that of the body; 12 these two made up virtue. But 
owing to the superior quality of spirit, its activity was con- 
sidered superior too : in the final analysis, the really virtuous 
man was the sage. This briefly is the theory of the nature of 
the world and man which is behind most of the thought of 
Greek thinkers who came after Posidonius. 

e Cic. Tusc. I 24, 56-28, 70. 
7/Znd. 1 17, 40; 18, 42. 
s Sen. Ep. 92, 10. 
Cic. Nat. Deor. II 9, 24ff. 

10 Cic. Div. I 49, 110. 

11 Cic. Tusc. I 12, 27ff.; 22, 53ff. 

12 Clem. Al. Strom. II 416b. 


II. The best illustration of what the Stoics thought about 
asceticism in the first years of the Empire is found in Seneca ; 
he is typical of the time, giving in a concentrated form the 
essence of the Stoicism which was the prevailing philosophy 
of his day. Just as Nero's household, of which he was an 
inmate, demonstrated in a concentrated form the tendencies 
which were prevailing in the whole Roman Empire and which 
were already heading it towards ruin (though moralizing 
historians since the days of Tacitus may have exaggerated 
the vice of Nero's court), so the philosophy of Seneca, which 
was his reaction to the life at court, represented in a con- 
centrated form the philosophical ideas which prevailed among 
large classes of persons throughout the world, and which gave 
the age its general tone. It is certain that the type of 
thought which Seneca represents was popular throughout the 
Roman Empire at the time, so his asceticism may be taken 
as typical of the ascetic tendencies of the period. 

Seneca was born at Cordova, in Spain, practically at the 
opening of the Christian era. In the reign of Augustus his 
father came to Rome as a rhetor. During his early life, 
Seneca held several public offices, but in 41 A.D. he was 
banished to Corsica, where he remained for eight years. At 
length he was recalled, however, in 49, by the Empress 
Agrippina, who made him the tutor of her son Nero. Upon 
the ascension of the latter upon the throne of the Empire, 
Seneca and his colleague Burrus virtually ruled the world. 
For a while, all went well. But presently things changed, 
and began to grow rapidly worse, and Seneca wished to with- 
draw from court. He had amassed an enormous fortune, 
which became a scandal to others, and Seneca felt the reproach 
deeply. He wished to give it up, but Nero forbade him 
either to resign his wealth or to leave Rome. From that 
time on, his life lay in Nero's hands, as Seneca was perfectly 
well aware. He devoted himself during the remainder of 
his life to literary pursuits: among the various products of 


the time are his letters to Luculus, which contain the best 
exposition of his philosophy, and particularly of its ascetical 
features. At length the order came, and Seneca committed 
suicide in the year 66. 13 

From his youth upwards, Seneca had received philosophical 
instruction. In one of his letters to Luculus, in a passage 
quoted in the last chapter, he tells in detail of his early 
studies. In this passage he describes his rigorous mode of 
life, his abstinence from all delicacies which might tend to 
soften the body, and from all fresh food, and in general, shows 
himself an enthusiastic adept of the popular philosophy of 
the time. If as a youth Seneca received such instruction 
with enthusiasm, it is no wonder that in his old age he gave 
asceticism a considerable place in his philosophy. But as 
with preceding ascetical philosophers, his asceticism was 
an integral part of his philosophy, and a logical deduction 
from its basic propositions, so it cannot be adequately under- 
stood apart from the rest. 

The starting point of his philosophy and of all the other 
philosophies of the time, for that matter, as was but natural- 
was a consideration of the transitoriness and uncertainty of 
all things. There seemed to be nothing in the world in which 
a man could have confidence. Even if things appear for the 
moment to be calm, he argued, one never knows what will 
come next: "do not trust this tranquility," he warned 
Luculus, " the sea is changed in a moment." 14 ISTor is human 
nature itself any more certain: "we waver between various 
plans; we wish nothing freely, nothing absolutely, nothing 
always. ' It is folly/ you say, ' to which nothing is constant, 
and is pleased long with nothing.' " 15 In such a state of 
affairs, a remedy must be sought, to make life bearable : since 

is For the relation of Seneca 's philosophy to his times, see Glover, The 
Conflict of Religions in the Roman Empire (1909), ch. ii; cf. Dill, 
Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, Bk. 3, ch. i. 

i* Ep. 4, 7. 

is Ep. 52, 1. 


all the things in this world are transitory, " seek something 
more amenable to the good ; but there is nothing that is this 
except what the soul finds within itself; virtue alone offers 
a sure and eternal pleasure." 16 In this sentence is the 
essence of his whole philosophy: to attain happiness, one 
should forsake external things and seek the things of the 
soul, or virtue, for they alone are eternal. "Do not take 
pleasure in vain things: I said this was the foundation of 
philosophy : it is its apex." 17 " ISTo one is able to live securely 
who thinks too much of procuring things, who counts many 
years among good things ; meditate daily how you may leave 
life with a calm mind." 18 "Philosophy will persuade you 
not to sit at the counting desk." 19 In one place he says, 
" If you wish to have your soul free, you must be poor, or as 
though you were poor." 20 But it is not necessary to live 
in penury; it is enough to be " as though you were poor." 
In another passage, he says that one should have sufficient to 
live : " ' what is the measure of riches ? ' you ask : first to have 
what is necessary, then to have what is sufficient." 21 All 
that he means to say is that one should not attach himself 
to these external things. Among these things to which a 
wise man will not attach himself is life itself : " I advise you 
this, not only as a remedy for disease but also for all life: 
despise death. Nothing is sad when we have fled this fear." 22 
The gods have no use for external things, so why should the 
sage ? 23 He will care only for virtue, and what is virtuous, 
even though it be painful, is what he will seek and all that he 
will seek. 24 

ie Ep. 27, 3. 
IT Ep. 23, 1. 
is Ep. 4, 4. 
i Ep. 17, 2. 

20 Ep. 17, 5. 

21 Ep. 2, 6. 

22 Ep. 78, 5. 

23 Ep. 76, 25. 

. 71,21. 


These ideas were all based upon the old Cynic teaching 
that one should forswear the goods of civilization and live 
according to nature : " indeed, it is our purpose to live accord- 
ing to nature/' said Seneca. 25 If one has this determination, 
and also has, as the Stoics did have, a clear conception of the 
necessity of nature, he will always wish to act in harmony 
with it : " the wise man does nothing unwillingly ; he escapes 
necessity, for he desires what is necessary." 26 Parallel with 
this, or rather, as a consequence of it, was the great emphasis 
which was placed upon reason. " If you wish to submit all 
things to yourself, submit yourself to reason; you will rule 
many things if reason rules you." 27 But this reasonable- 
ness is not only practical: reason being the highest part of 
man, its perfection is the highest perfection. " It is well if 
the reason is set free and right, and accommodates the will 
to its nature. For as reason alone perfects a man, so perfect 
reason alone makes him happy." 28 "You rejoice that you 
are improving and calm; yet that joy is a very different one 
which comes from the contemplation of a resplendent mind, 
pure from all defilement." 29 But reason is more than the 
highest part of man: it is an element of the divine within 
him. "Reason is nothing other than a part of the divine 
spirit placed in the human body." 30 Thus reappears the old 
Stoic doctrine of the Spermatic Logos and its incarnation 
in man. 

This importance of reason led to a great emphasis upon 
the personality or individuality of a man, upon his soul. 
Since reason was considered the most important part of man, 
and was internal, and since all external things were vain, 
men were urged to rely upon their own souls, to withdraw 

25 Ep. 5, 4. 

26 Ep. 54, 7. 

27 Ep. 37, 4. 

28 Ep. 76, 15-16. 

29 Ep. 4, 1. 

30 Ep. 66, 12. 


within themselves. " Withdraw into yourself as much as you 
are able; commune with those things which will make you 
better." 31 Also, it was taught that a man should be judged 
by these internal things only : " when you wish to arrive at a 
true estimation of a man, and to know what sort he is, regard 
him naked : let him set aside his inheritance, his honors and 
the other lies of nature, and let him divest himself of his 
body itself : regard the soul, as to what sort and how great it 
is, and whether its greatness is due to him or someone else." 32 
Corollary with this was the teaching that a man should show 
himself independent even of other men : the greatest contempt 
is shown for the iurba. It is said to be the incarnation of 
foolishness and vice. The sage will flee it. 33 

The reward which awaits him who does this is freedom, 
" perpetual liberty, and dread (timor) of neither man nor 
god." 34 In a splendid passage, Seneca speaks of the reward 
which a sage may expect, and in it, he sums up a good deal 
of his philosophy. " And how great a recompense awaits, if 
we break off from our preoccupations and most tenacious 
evils. Neither passion nor fear disturbs us. Unmoved by 
terrors, uncorrupted by vices, we shall dread neither death 
nor the gods : we shall know that death is not an evil and that 
the gods are not bad: for that is weak which harms, rather 
than that which is harmed. The best lack evil power. 
There awaits us, if hereafter we go from this debased to that 
lofty state, tranquility of soul and, after all delusions have 
been expelled, absolute liberty. Do you ask what these 
mean? Not to dread either men or gods; to wish nothing 
base or superfluous; to have the greatest power in oneself: 
for it is an inestimable good to be made master of oneself." 35 

si Ep. 7, 8. 

32 Ep. 76, 32. 

MEp.7, 1, 2; 8 } 1, 2; de Otio 8, 1. 

s* Ep. 17, 6. 

35 Ep. 75, 16-18. 



Upon this foundation, teaching the vanity of all external 
things, and exalting to the skies the gloriousness of the 
individual soul, Seneca's asceticism was built. The end 
of life, he taught, is virtue, but few men ever attain it. His 
ascetical philosophy aimed to point out the way which one 
should follow to attain it. 

In the first place, all men are sinners: " peccavimus" he 
says. 36 But though this statement may be enlightening, it 
does not aid greatly in remedying the situation, except in so 
far as it emphasizes the fact that there is a situation to be 
remedied. It is more important to know why all men are 
sinners. "What is it, Luculus," he asks, " which drags us one 
way when we want to go another, and forces us towards that 
from which we wish to recede ? " 37 The answer is that 
" many things bind us, many things maim us. As long as we 
are buried in vices, it is difficult to be saved. We are not 
impure, but poisoned." 38 The real cause of sin is that men 
do not realize the vanity of everything, but are constantly 
wanting things; in good Buddhist fashion, he teaches that 
desire is the root of all evil: he quotes with approval from 
Hecaton, "you will cease fearing if you cease desiring." 39 
The trouble with men is that they do not heed the teaching of 

The life which a philosopher should lead, and the one led 
by ordinary people are two absolutely incompatible modes of 
life; in the manner of so many of his contemporaries, he 
compares them to two cities. 40 One is the ordinary every- 
day world of transitoriness and discord and sordidness ; the 
other the real and spiritual world. He urges his friend 
Luculus to " ascend from this world to that." " As great as 
is the difference between their splendor and light and one 

se de Clem, i 6. 
37 Ep. 52, 1. 
ss Ep. 59, 9. 
39 Ep. 5, 7. 

. 68, 2; de Otio iv. 


has its own certain source of light, but the other shines by the 
light of the first so great is the difference between this life 
and that : the present one is illuminated by light coming from 
without and whoever comes makes a thick shadow ; that one 
is illuminated by its own light. 7 ' 41 

This other life is the one which every man, or at least 
every philosopher, should seek to lead ; this other city is the 
one in which he should seek to establish his true citizenship. 
But this is by no means an easy task: it requires constant 
struggle and warfare on the part of the philosopher. "It 
would make you laugh if someone should tell you that the 
struggle is gentle and easy. I do not wish to deceive you. 
The expression is the same for this most glorious profession, 
and that most base one [of gladiator] : ' to practice (usi = 
acr/celv), to conquer and to be slain by the sword. 7 It might 
better be avoided by those who place themselves in the arena, 
and who eat and drink what they gain by blood, for they suffer 
such things unwillingly ; but when said by you, it is not base, 
for you endure willingly and freely. They are allowed to throw 
down their arms and demand mercy of the people, but you may 
neither surrender nor ask for your life.' 742 The life of the 
philosopher is like that of the soldier, and both should be 
terminated with the word " Vici ! 77 " Do you ask whom you 
are to conquer? ~Not the Persians nor the farthest of the 
Medes nor whatever warlike people lies beyond the Dahae, 
but avarice, ambition and fear of the death which conquers 
the conquerors of peoples. 7743 He bids men endure the buf- 
ferings of fate by remembering that "no athlete is able to 
approach the struggle who has never been beaten black and 
blue. 7744 One of his arguments for a rigorous mode of life 
is that " the strongest soldiers come from the rough country, 
while the lazy ones come from the city. The more severe 

41 Ep. 21, 1-2. 

42 p. 37, 1-2; cf. 96, 5. 

43 Ep. 71, 37. 

44 Ep. 13, 2. 


discipline of the country strengthens their nature, and makes 
it suitable for greater endeavours." 45 Finally, no one is able 
to attain the good things which lead to a happy life unless 
" one is regardless of labor," but if one does persevere, he will 
at last succeed, and receive a reward which is comparable to 
a victor's crown. 46 

To attain this crown, the essential thing is to cultivate virtue 
and flee from vice. Now, like the good ascetic that he is, and 
like the faithful descendant of the Greek tradition that he also 
is, Seneca associates the former with the internal and invisible 
soul, and the latter with the external and visible body. Thus 
he arrives at the distinction of soul and body, with the cor- 
ollary doctrine of the infinite superiority of the former: he 
who would seek virtue, and he who would sin no more, must 
cease caring for the body. 

In a number of passages, Seneca points out the baseness of 
the body. " Leave the body, as something rotten." 47 " It is 
useless and decaying flesh, good only for receiving food, as 
Posidonius said." 48 "Restrain your body as much as you 
are able, and give the place to the soul." 49 " The body is to 
be treated severely, lest the soul perish miserably." 50 He 
speaks of the body as " corpusculum," and says that " even if 
nothing can be done without it, consider it a necessary thing 
rather than a great one." 51 It is able to and does make life 
miserable, 52 and is a punishment. 53 " The body is a burden 
to the soul and a punishment ; the soul is constantly distressed 
by it and in its chains," 54 a doctrine familiar since the 

45 Ep. 51, 10-11. 

46 Ep. 78, 16, 4. 

47 Ep. 120, 17. 

48 Ep. 92, 10. 
40 Ep. 15, 2. 
5Q Ep. 8, 5. 
si Ep. 22, 6. 

52 Ep. 22, 3. 

53 Ep. 120, 14. 

54 Ep. 65, 16. 


advent of Orphism, but which Seneca undoubtedly took from 
Plato. " This little body is a jailer and chain for the soul.' 755 
" These bones which you see thrown about us, and the nerves 
and the skin stretched over them, and the face and hands and 
the other things in which we are enclosed, are chains and 
shadows of the soul. The soul is buried in them, it is choked, 
slain, turned from the truth and driven into falsity by them. 
All life is a bitter struggle with this flesh." 56 But Seneca 
remembers all the while that the body is a necessary thing, 
and says that one " may indulge the body as much as is neces- 
sary for good health." 57 " I admit that a care for our bodies 
is laid upon us ; I admit that we have a wardship over them. 
I do not say that the body is not to be cared for ; I deny that 
it is to be served. For he serves many things who serves the 
body, who fears it too much, who refers all things to it. If 
it is necessary for us to care for it, it is not that we should 
live for the sake of the body, but that we cannot live without 
it. Love of it disturbs us with fears, burdens us with cares, 
exposes us to injury. Honor is base to him to whom the body 
is too dear. We should most diligently control our concern 
for it, so that if reason demands, or dignity or honesty, we 
may consign it to the flames." 58 The body is therefore what 
is really at the bottom of all our troubles, and we would be 
better off without it: "if souls only remained free from 
bodies, their state would be happier than when they are in 
them." 59 

But the body, while being the chief source of evil, is not 
the only one. At other times he attributes wickedness to the 
things of the world, and particularly what he calls the 
" crowd " : his contempt for this has already been mentioned, 
but he did not stop at contempt, but went on to teach that it 

55 Dial, xii 11, 7. 

56 Dial, vi 24, 5. 

57 Ep. 8, 5. 

58 Ep. 14, 1-2. 

59 Ep. 76, 25. 


was inherently wicked. " Do you inquire what I think you 
should particularly avoid ? The crowd. Conversation with 
many is hurtful ; there is no one who will not commend some 
vice or press it upon you, or color it over for you unawares. 
Therefore the greater the number of people we are associated 
with, the greater is our danger." 60 But the " crowd " is not 
the only thing either: from every quarter come temptations 
which seek to destroy us. " We should therefore direct our 
course so that we may be able to flee as far as possible from 
inducements to vice. The soul is to be toughened and with- 
drawn far from the allurements of pleasure. One winter 
undid Hannibal, and the delicacies of Campania effeminated 
the man unconquered by the snows of the Alps. He con- 
quered with arms, but was conquered by vices. 7 ' 61 A par- 
ticular source of temptation he saw in the theater, which he, 
like Plato, condemned as subversive of good morals. " Really 
there is nothing so destructive to good morals as to sit in 
some theater. Because of the spectacle, vices break forth 
more easily." 62 

It was an orthodox Stoic doctrine that the sage is superior 
to external circumstances, for he will rise above them. Thus 
" Canopus does not prevent any one from being good, nor does 
Baia itself." 63 Nevertheless, discretion is sometimes the bet- 
ter part of valor, and it is consequently desirable to flee 
temptation, as was shown in the quotations in the preceding 
paragraph: a philosophic retreat is urged, and he remarks 
that "no one thinking of a retreat would ever choose Cano- 
pus." 64 In several of his letters he expatiates upon the 
advantages of a retreat from the world and its justifications. 
" I approve of your plan : conceal yourself in ease but also 
flee ease itself. If this is not to be justified from the prin- 

co Ep. 7, 1-2. 
si Ep. 51, 5-6. 

62 Ep. 7, 2. 

63 Ep. 51, 3. 

64 Ep. 51, 3. 


ciples of the Stoics, you know that at least it is permitted 
from their example. But you may also do this according to 
their precepts; you will be approved both by yourself and 
whomever you wish. We should not concern ourselves with 
every matter, nor always nor unlimitedly. Moreover, as we 
Stoics give the wise man a commonwealth worthy of him, that 
is, the universe, he is not beyond public matters, even if he 
goes into retreat ; but on the contrary, if only a small corner 
is left for him, it being placed in the heavens, he knows that 
he is in a greater place than before, when he ascended to the 
magistrate's seat or the tribunal, or when he sat in a humble 
place." 65 "Do you ask me what pleases me most of those 
things which I hear about you ? It is when I hear nothing 
at all, and when many of those whom I question do not know 
what you are doing. It is a good thing to have nothing to 
do with different persons, and those desiring different things. 
... I am not afraid that they may change you, but that they 
may impede you." 66 " ' You order me to avoid the crowd ? ' 
you ask, ' and to go into retreat ? Where, then, are your pre- 
cepts which say that we should die in action ? ' Well, what I 
seem to urge upon you, I perform myself, withdrawing and 
closing my doors, in order that I may be able to advance as 
much as possible. ... I withdraw not so much from men 
as from things, and particularly from my own things : I work 
for posterity." 67 

This mere withdrawal from worldly affairs, however, was 
not all. Sometimes he made it include a life of ascetic dis- 
cipline, at least upon certain days. " I should like to tempt 
the strength of your soul in another way," he wrote toLuculus, 
" and teach you something from the precepts of great men. 
Set apart certain days, upon which to be content with very 
little and vile food, and with rough and prickly clothing, so 
that you can say to yourself, l Is this what was feared ? ' In 

tsEp. 68, 1-2; cf. 36, 1. 
66 Ep. 32, 2. 
7 Ep. 8, 1-2. 


its present security, the mind thus prepares itself for diffi- 
culties, and in the midst of benefits, strengthens itself against 
the injuries of fortune." 68 The justification here is as 
typical as the act justified. 

Thus certain austerities are recommended as a valuable 
training. But Seneca was unwilling to recommend the ex- 
cesses to which many persons were going in his day. " I 
warn you lest, after the manner of those who do not desire 
to progress but to be seen, you might do some things which 
would make your costume or manner of life notable. Avoid 
a cultivated filth, an unshorn head, a more neglected beard, 
an advertised contempt for money, a bed on the ground, and 
whatever else ambition seeks by a perverse way. ... It is 
contrary to nature to rack the body, to hate an easy cleanli- 
ness, to seek filth, and to use food which is not so much cheap 
as offensive and horrid. . . . Philosophy demands temper- 
ance, not punishment, and there may be a decency of tem- 
perance. . . . He is great who uses clay in the same way as 
silver, nor is he less great who uses silver as though it were 
clay." 69 Going further, he was disgusted by the mutilations 
with which some zealots deformed themselves ; " daily they 
contrive means by which injury may be done to virility, while 
others cut off their genitals." 70 

All the propositions which are fundamental to asceticism 
are to be found, therefore, in Seneca : the body is bad and to 
be suppressed, the world is the source of temptations and to 
be fled, austerities are to be indulged in as training. In all 
of this, Seneca was following the spirit of his time, and 
rationalizing what multitudes of persons were then doing, 
as was seen in the last chapter. He began his philosophic 
career, as was seen, by eagerly practicing this popular asceti- 
cism: his importance for the present study lies in the fact 
that in later life he developed from this the philosophy of 

es Ep. 18, 5. 
TO Nat. Ques. vii 31, 3. 


asceticism which has just been outlined, and thus stated the 
aspiration of the time in enduring words. He formulated a 
view of life which made asceticism seem reasonable and de- 
sirable, and which was destined to the greatest influence in 
subsequent history. The Christians found this view of life 
so congenial that they were unwilling to believe that its au- 
thor was unacquainted with the Gospel, so forged a corre- 
spondence between him and St. Paul which even deceived 
Jerome and Augustine. And the sum and substance of this 
world-view was that the world itself is fleeting and not to be 
counted upon, and that the soul alone is stable and worthy of 
the care of a wise man ; that the body and all else which inter- 
feres with the soul is to be shunned, or to receive as little 
attention as possible ; and that the really great man is the one 
who neglects all for the cultivation of his soul. " Believe me, 
those who seem to do nothing are really doing the greatest 
things: they have to do at the same time with human things 
and divine." 71 

III. If the attempt were being made here to give a com- 
plete account of the asceticism of all the philosophical writers 
who later had an influence upon Christian ascetics, consider- 
able space would have to be devoted at this point to Philo of 
Alexandria. For of all the writers of this period, Philo 
probably had the greatest influence upon his Christian suc- 
cessors, 72 and as asceticism plays a considerable role in his 
philosophical system, it is but natural that his theory of 
asceticism should be of equal importance. But as has already 
been pointed out several times, there is no intention of here 
discussing all the forerunners of Christian asceticism; we 
must confine ourselves to those who are obviously in the Greek 
tradition, that is, to those who received the majority at least 
of their opinions from Greeks, and who passed theirs on 

71 Ep. 8, 6. 

72 Conybeare, Philo About the Contemplative Life (1895). Pp. x, 
330, 328ff. 


to later Greeks. But Philo did neither of these things; he 
was born and brought up a Jew and received his inspiration 
from the Jews, though he took his material largely from the 
Greeks; on the other hand, he always remained unknown to 
later Greeks and his influence upon them was therefore in- 
significant. Consequently Philo was an offshoot from the 
Greek tradition, rather than a part of it, and outside the 
proper field of the present study. Nevertheless, Philo was a 
very typical representative of his time, and parts of his phi- 
losophy represented what many Greeks were thinking at the 
same time: in spite of his Jewish origin, Philo was pro- 
foundly affected by Greek speculation. It will not be wholly 
out of place, therefore, to summarize his ascetic thought 
briefly, even though nowhere near the amount of space is 
devoted to it which his influence upon Christian thought 
would justify, if a general history of asceticism were being 
written. 73 

In his moral system particularly, Philo was a Greek. He 
had taken over from the Stoics the idea of the possibility of 
moral progress, but the religious note in his system was much 
stronger than in theirs, for he made the whole progress culmi- 
nate in an ecstatic union with God an idea frequently found 
in the later mystics, and especially Plotinus. In his account 
of the different virtues, too, Philo merely followed the Stoics 
to a large extent. His portrait of the ideal sage, his em- 
phasis upon internal, spiritual life (which is the center of his 
moral system) and his ideas in regard to human fraternity 
are as Stoical as is his abundant use of the allegorical method. 
But Philo's asceticism seems to have been taken from a more 
popular source, namely, the Cynics and such diatribe writers 
as Musonius. 74 For him, as for them, it was pleasure, the 

73 For an excellent account of the moral system of Philo, see Brehier, 
Les Idees philosophiques et religieuses de Philon d'Alexandrie (1907), 
Bk. 3, ch. 3, pp. 250-310; cf. Bousset, Die Religion des Judentums 
(1904), pp. 503ff.; Conybeare, Op. tit., pp. 265ff. 

7*Wendland, Philo und die Jcynisch-stoische Diatribe (1895); Brehier, 
pp. 261ff. 


chief evil, which was the cause of the fall of man, and of all 
their vices and passions. Consequently, the most important 
virtue was the one which was opposed to pleasure, namely, 
temperance or continence. "He rejects and banishes all 
luxury from life; he finds his ideal of life realized in the 
community of Therapeutae. He regrets that the wise man 
cannot destroy the desire for food, and that human nature is 
driven to use food and drink." 75 He describes at length the 
internal combat in which one should engage against pleasure, 
passions and vices. 76 Virtue is to be acquired only after a 
long series of pains and efforts, which constitutes a veritable 
asceticism both in the original sense of training and in the 
derived sense of abstention. This asceticism consisted in 
seeking virtue and in learning to despise false goods. 77 Dif- 
ferent practices are recommended in different passages : read- 
ing, exercise, practice of the cult, meditation upon the good, 
the accomplishment of regular functions. 78 But the most 
important things are struggle against temptation and the 
inward life. This latter sometimes takes the form of retire- 
ment from the world 79 though in general Philo disapproved 
of non-social hermits 80 and sometimes of interior medita- 
tion. 81 By such acts, one was trained to live virtuously, just 
as the gladiator was trained for the contest. 82 By means of 
them, a man might hope to arrive at last at that state for 
which all should struggle, perfection. 

At the same time as Philo (the last years before Christ 
and the first after) came the great revival of Pythagorean 
philosophy, which, as we have seen, contained a great deal of 

75Bousset, p. 511; Philo. Leg. All. Ill 141ff. 
iLeg. All. II 79-108; III 118-160; etc. 

77 de cong. er. gr. 24-34. 

78 Leg. All. I 18 ; quis rer. div. her. 253. 
7 de leg. spec. Ill 1; Bousset, p. 510. 
so de fuga 33ff.; Brehier, p. 268. 

si de gig. 44. 

82 This figure, borrowed from the Cynics, is found frequently in Philo. 


asceticism. Developing upon the number mysticism of the 
earlier Pythagoreans, they taught that the One was to be 
associated with God, and the Many with Matter, and from 
this they deduced philosophical principles recommending the 
subjugation of matter and a general asceticism. Continuing 
the old belief about the transmigration of souls, they argued 
for abstention from meat; their arguments for this are well 
shown in Jamblichus's work On Abstention from Animal 
Food. 83 But !N"eo-Pythagoreanism never became a widely 
accepted philosophy, especially in its metaphysical features. 
Most of the persons who interested themselves in it were like 
those who were described in the last chapter, who took it as 
a popular ethical system. Its real significance as a philoso- 
phy lies in the fact that it prepared the way for N~eo-Plato- 
nism. Just as centuries before Pythagorism had led up to 
.Platonism, so now the revised Pythagorism led up to a re- 
vised Platonism. 

IV. It has already been shown how closely the thought of 
Plato was related to the environment which produced it: as 
a result of the activity of the sophists during the fifth century 
B.C., the old ideals and aspirations of the Athenians had been 
shattered, and their old values reduced to nought; to some 
minds, and especially to Plato's, this destructive work of the 
sophists seemed to lead to ruin, and the mainspring which 
drove his entire philosophical activity was the desire to show 
that ideals do have a real existence, in fact, a realer existence 
than any other things, and that they are more worthy of our 
efforts than anything else; this was the sum and substance 
of the Platonic teaching. But while this destructive work 
against which Plato revolted is generally laid to the sophists, 
it was really due to the general evolution of the times, and to 
the political and social situation of Athens. Now, during 
the closing centuries of the history of the pagan world, this 

ss For a general account of Neo-Pythagoreanisnij see Zeller, vol. 3, pt. 
2, pp. 110-139. 


same situation was repeated. The Hellenic civilization was 
losing its force, and again old ideals were falling into decay. 
A reading of Lucian should convince anyone of that. As the 
present seemed unable to produce anything worth while, se- 
rious minds turned more and more to the past, and all sorts 
of methods were attempted to reinstate the old ideals which 
had made possible the Greek civilization. The allegorical 
method of the Stoics is an early example of this ; by it they 
attempted to make the old myths and beliefs credible once 
more. But as time went on things grew worse, and other 
methods were tried. The last of these was an attempted re- 
vival of Platonic philosophy. It was no wonder that the men 
of the third century felt an especial attraction for Plato, 
for he had faced a situation much like theirs ; they found a 
kindred mind in him, and the answers he gave to the great 
problems were taken up with eagerness by these disciples 
centuries later. Hence the rise of Neo-Platonism. But the 
Neo-Platonists did not confine themselves to taking over 
Plato; continuing the eclecticism which had marked Greek 
philosophy for several centuries, they also drew heavily upon 
Aristotle and the Stoics, while their immediate source of 
origin seems to have been Neo-Pythagoreanism. The influ- 
ence of oriental speculation, and especially of gnosticism, was 
also marked. 84 In the main, however, Neo-Platonism was a 
continuation and revival of Platonism. 

The school of the Neo-Platonists claimed Ammonius Saccas 
as its founder. This philosopher flourished in Alexandria 
about the year 200 A.D. He wrote nothing himself, but in- 
spired a large number of pupils, who perpetuated the system 
which he had formulated. From his time until the end of 
the Greek world, Neo-Platonism was the predominating phi- 
losophy. During this period the school produced many 
writers, but among these the most eminent and the most 

s* For the question of the relations of Neo-Platonism and Gnosticism, 
see C. Schmidt, Plotins Stellung sum Gnosticismus und kirchlichen Chris- 
tentum, Texte und Untersuchungen, N.F. iv, 1901. 


typical was Ammonius's own pupil, Plotinus. His Enneads 
are the classical exposition of Neo-Platonic philosophy. In 
our search for the ascetic theory of the school, we cannot do 
better than turn to them. 

Plotinus was born at Lykopolis in Egypt in 204 or 205. 
He early devoted himself to the study of philosophy at Alex- 
andria, where he came in contact with Ammonius. In 242 
he set out for Persia with the expedition of the Emperor Gor- 
dianus, to study the philosophy of the Persians and Hindus ; 
but as the emperor was killed in Mesopotamia, the expedition 
was a failure, and Plotinus went to Antioch. Two years later 
he went to Rome, where he taught philosophy until his death 
in 269 or 270. 

His pupil and biographer Porphyry tells us that he was so 
ashamed of having a body that he never spoke of his parents 
who had given him one. 85 In regard to his own ascetic life, 
we are told that " he never ate the flesh of domestic animals, 
much less of wild ones. He never bathed, but contented him- 
self with having his body rubbed every day ; when those who 
performed this office died of a plague which was then making 
great ravages, he dispensed with this, too, which interruption 
gave him quinsy." 86 Ascetic practices were common among 
Plotinus's pupils, too. Thus Rogotianus, a Roman senator, 
who applied himself to the study of philosophy under Ploti- 
nus, "became so detached from the things of this world that 
he abandoned his property, dismissed his domestics, and re- 
nounced his dignities. Having been named praetor, at the 
moment of entering upon his duties, when the lictors already 
awaited him, he determined not to go out or to exercise any of 
the functions of this office. He was not even willing to live 
in his house, but went to his friends' houses. There he ate 
and slept. He only took food one day in two, and by this 
regimen, after having been so afflicted with gout that he had 

. Vit. Plot. 1. 


to be carried about in a chair, lie regained his strength and 
stretched out his hands as easily as a mechanic, though he had 
been unable to make any use of them before. Plotinus had a 
great friendship for him; he praised him highly and held 
him up as a model to those who wished to become philoso- 
phers." 87 But the importance of Plotinus is not in what he 
did, but in what he taught. In his essays, a theory of asceti- 
cism is developed which represents the highest point attained 
by the Greeks in ascetical doctrine. As the essays were ar- 
ranged by his pupil Porphyry according to subject matter, 
most of his remarks upon the subject are collected in the first 
Ennead, which treats of morals, though numerous passages in 
other parts of the work either amplify the theory or its meta- 
physical background. 

Fundamental to the whole philosophy of Plotinus is his dis- 
tinction between the intelligible and the sensible worlds. 
Like all idealists, Plotinus posited another world above the 
one with which his senses made him acquainted a world 
known by the mind alone, but one which was, in the fullest 
sense of the term, the only real world. In this world he 
located all that was good or beautiful or intelligent, or that 
had being. It was the abode of the gods. It was complete 
and self-sufficient, had need of nothing, was the measure and 
end of all things, and was eternal; it was the only reality. 
But it was not all of a piece : like the Christian God, it was a 
trinity, having three hypostases or principles. The lowest of 
these was the Universal Soul, the second the Divine Intelli- 
gence, and the highest or first, the Good or the One. The One 
was the principle " upon which all depends, though it depends 
upon nothing itself." This first principle, the Good or Ab- 
solute Being or the One, or even God as it is sometimes called, 
was therefore the center upon which all things were focused, 
the end towards which all things strove, even the rest of the 
intelligible world which was lower in the hierarchy. " The 


Universal Soul directs all its activity towards the Supreme 
intelligence and, in a way, lives only by it. Moving around 
it and about it according to the laws of harmony, the Uni- 
versal Soul attached its regards upon it, and penetrating into 
its most intimate depths by contemplation, it thus beholds God 
himself. It is in this that the serene and happy life of the 
gods consists, which is a life where evil has no place.' 788 The 
first principle was the center of the universe, towards which 
all things were drawn by a sort of Platonic epo>9 ; this first 
principle was the highest good. 

Sharply opposed to this intelligible world was the sensible 
world, made up of material things. Just as the other world 
was the essence of the good, this sensible world was the 
essence of evil; as it was one, this was many; as it was 
Being, this was non-Being; as it was spiritual, this was 
material. This matter was the visible sign of the sensible 
world, as well as being the cause of its baseness. Plotinus's 
denunciations of matter are numerous. " Matter does not 
possess being; it is truly said to be the non-being." 89 " The 
nature of bodies, in so far as it partakes of matter, is an 
evil." 90 " The cause of evil is therefore the presence of 
matter in sensible things." 91 Matter is the mark of evil, 
but its essence is something else. " To determine better the 
nature of evil, we. may think of it as the lack of measure as 
measure is concerned, as indetermination in regard to a goal, 
as the lack of form in relation to the principle which is crea- 
tive of form, as eternal need as compared with that which is 
self-sufficient, as perpetual illimitation and mutability, and 
finally as absolute instability and indigence. That which is 
the subject of the form, the determination, the limitation, that 

ss Enn. I 8 } 2. As there is no good English translation of Plotinus, 
this and the following extracts are based on the Greek text and the 
admirable French translation of Bouillet. 

8 I 8, 5. 

oi8, 5. 


which owes its ornaments to other things and has nothing 
good of its own, that which in relation to true beings is only 
a vain image, in a word, the essence of evil if such an essence 
of evil is possible, that is what reason obliges us to recognize 
as the first evil, as Evil-in-itself. The nature of bodies, 
in so far as it participates in matter, is evil; for it has a 
certain form, though this form is nothing real ; moreover, it is 
deprived of life, as bodies corrupt one another mutually ; they 
are in a perpetual flux, contrary to the immutable nature of 
essences; therefore they constitute the second evil." 92 The 
sensible world, then, is a vain and inglorious and unreal one, 
and one can already foresee a teaching that it is to be 

But the earth itself is not so bad after all : the Universal 
Soul is infused into it, and gives it a certain amount of 
beauty. In the essay on the Three Hypostases, there are 
many eloquent passages describing the beauty which the world 
thus receives. " The presence of the Soul has made an ad- 
mirable whole out of that which was before an inert cadaver, 
earth and water, or rather shades of matter, non-being, an 
object of horror to the gods, as the poet says." 93 "If the 
heaven, the sun and the stars are gods, this is due to the 
presence of the Soul. It is through this that we ourselves 
become something; a corpse is more vile than a dung-heap." 94 
" Without a soul, every body is but earth ; it is the soul which 
gives the body its beauty." 95 Elsewhere it is said that bodies 
" become beautiful by participating in a reason coming from 

As this Universal Soul extends everywhere, there is really 
nothing absolutely without it, and therefore nothing abso- 
lutely and utterly base ; everything which we see about us is 

2 I 8, 3-4. 
3 V 1, 2. 

64 VI, 2. 

I 6, 2. 



a mixture of matter and soul, but the best example of this 
fusion of body and soul is man himself. Man is double, 
made up of a material body and a soul " which is a god which 
came from on high to dwell in us." 97 This soul, therefore, 
is in value far superior to anything which we possess : " strip 
it of all that envelops it, regard it in its purity and you 
will see how precious is the essence of the soul, and how far 
superior it is to every body." 98 Such being the value of 
the soul, one should devote the greatest pains to its care, but 
owing to its very union with the body, the soul becomes 

" We would be correct in saying that the soul becomes ugly 
by mixing itself with the body and matter, in uniting itself 
to it, in inclining towards it. Ugliness of the soul consists 
in not being pure and unalloyed, as that of gold is being 
defiled with particles of earth." 99 Though the soul is never 
completely united with matter, but always separated some- 
what from it, matter " attempts to penetrate into the place 
occupied by the soul, but all this place is sacred, for nothing 
is there deprived of the soul. Matter, in exposing itself to 
the rays of the soul, is illuminated by it, but cannot receive 
into itself the principle illuminating it. In fact, this latter 
does not allow of matter, though it be present, nor even see 
it, for it is evil. Matter darkens and enfeebles the light 
which is shed upon it, for it adds its own shadows. It gives 
the soul occasion for generation, by offering free access to 
itself: for if matter were not present, the soul would not 
approach it. To descend thus into matter is the fall of the 
soul." 100 

Here is the old, old story of the fall ; men are now in their 
present unhappy state because they have fallen from the glory 

T 1 2, 6. 

ea V I, 2. 

I 6, 5. 

100 I 3, 14; cf.I8,4. 


that once was theirs. Time and time again it has been seen 
that this doctrine leads directly to asceticism : men should try 
to regain their primitive state, and to do so, they must give 
themselves over to all sorts of ascetic practices. But before 
turning to this, how did the fall come about? Plotinus is 
very explicit in one passage. " How does it come about that 
having a divine nature, being issue from God, souls do not 
realize this or their own value ? The origin of their evil is 
audacity, generation, the original diversity, the desire to be- 
long to no one but themselves. 101 As soon as they had tasted 
the pleasure of possessing an independent life, using freely of 
the power which they had to move, they advanced in the road 
leading them from their origin so that now they have arrived 
at such an estrangement from God that they do not know that 
they received their life from him." 102 

Fallen though it may be, however, the soul still remains 
related to the divine, and may return to it ; the soul relates us 
to the divine, and opens up to us a means of advancing 
towards it. " Since the essence of the soul is so divine and 
precious, be persuaded that by it you may attain to God ; with 
it, raise yourself to him. You do not have to seek him far 
away; there are not many intermediaries between him and 
you. To attain to him, take as your guide the most divine 
and loftiest part of your soul, the power from which it pro- 
ceeds and by which it touches the intelligible world." 103 
There is always a way, therefore, to return to the state from 
which the soul once fell, " to become again that which it was 
originally"; 104 the soul supplies this means, but just how? 
A general answer is to be given first. " Life in a body is in 
itself an evil; but by virtue, the soul places itself in the 

101 '< c 'est-a-dire le desire qui a conduit les ames & se separer primi- 
tivement de Dieu et a s'unir aux corps. " Bouillet, Fr. tr. of Plot., 
interpolation, vol. iii, p. 3. 

102V 1,1. 

los V 1, 3. 



good, by not conserving this union with the body, but by 
separating itself from it." 105 But now what is virtue ? and 
just what does he mean by separating the soul from the body ? 

" Since evil reigns here below and inevitably dominates 
in this world, and since the soul wishes to nee evil, it is 
necessary to flee from this world. But what is the way to do 
so? It is, according to Plato, to resemble God. We shall 
succeed by regulating ourselves according to justice, holiness, 
wisdom and virtue in general." 106 But by virtue he does 
not mean what he calls the civil virtues, prudence, courage or 
temperance. " These give us a certain resemblance with 
God, but it is through virtues of a superior order that we 
become completely like him." 107 The virtuous man will 
certainly exercise these inferior virtues, but he will transform 
them, and will not confine himself to these. He will "ad- 
vance to the virtues of a superior order and form himself 
according to their rules. For example, he will not make 
temperance consist only in being moderate, but he will try to 
separate himself more and more from matter; he will not be 
contented with leading the life of a good man, as demanded 
by the civil virtues, but will aspire to still higher, to the 
life of the gods. It is they, and not merely good men whom 
we must resemble. To seek merely to resemble good men 
would be to make an image similar to another image. The 
assimilation which we prescribe consists in taking a superior 
being as model." 108 No, civil virtues are bodily affairs, and 
those who would seek the highest good should use the soul, 
for this is the part of man which approaches the nearest 
to God. " The soul, which by its nature is closer to the 
divine essence than the body, by that very fact participates in 
it to a greater degree." 109 It is these virtues of the soul 

105 1 7, 3. 

ioei2,l; C f.I8,7. 


IDS I 2, 7. 
io I 2, 2. 


which one must cultivate, if he is to approach God. Plo- 
tinus' s interpretation of the story of Hercules, the patron god 
of the Cynics and Stoics, well illustrates his thought upon 
this point. " Hercules's virtue was active, and because of 
his great qualities he was judged worthy of being admitted 
to the rank of the gods ; but as he possessed the active virtue 
only, and not the contemplative virtue, he could not be ad- 
mitted wholly into heaven; therefore, while a part of him 
is in heaven, a part is also in Hades." 110 

But what was the nature of this true virtue ? how was one 
to learn it ? Plotinus says that " to convert souls to God, to 
elevate them to the Supreme Principle, to the One, to the 
First, one must reason with them in two ways. In the first 
place, he must show the baseness of the objects which they 
now esteem, and then he must remind them of the origin and 
dignity of the soul." 111 To these two points, the insignif- 
icance of external things and the infinite value and dignity 
of the soul, Plotinus gives much attention. 

In a long passage he sets forth in veritably Stoic terms 
the truth that happiness does not depend upon external 
things. 112 " The wise man will not make his fate depend 
upon the happiness of others." 11 3 " It is the duty of virtue to 
improve upon the ordinary state of human nature and to 
lead it to that which is most beautiful, elevating itself above 
the opinion of the vulgar. It is beautiful not to cede to that 
which the vulgar ordinarily regard as evils." 114 In general, 
"the world offers a spectacle of injustice and disorder, for 
our nature is mortal, and we dwell in an inferior place." 115 
The sensible world is distinctly inferior and its goods should 
therefore not be sought after. 

in V 1,1. 
us 1 4, 7. 
11* 1 4, 8. 
us I 8, 6. 


" Though the vulgar man may be rich, beautiful, great, and 
though he may command all others, thus enjoying all the ter- 
restrial benefits, it is not necessary to envy him for the deceitful 
pleasures which he derives from these advantages. The wise man 
will not possess them at first, perhaps, but if he does, he will 
diminish them of his own free will, if he has the care for himself 
which he should have ; by a voluntary negligence, he will weaken 
and sully the advantages of the body; he will renounce his dig- 
nities ; though preserving the health of his body, he will not de- 
sire to be entirely exempt from illness and suffering; if he does 
not know these evils, he will wish their acquaintance in his youth ; 
but when he has arrived at old age, he will not wish to be bothered 
any more, either by pains or by pleasures, or anything else, sad 
or agreeable, which is relative to the body, so as not to be obliged 
to give it his attention." 116 " In fact, it would be denying the 
very essence of happiness to regard exterior objects as the desire 
of a virtuous man/' 117 "A man cannot be wise, nor conse- 
quently happy, as long as he has not yet succeeded in ridding 
himself of these vain notions, has not completely transformed 
himself, is not sure of being protected from all evil; it is only 
then that he can live without being agitated by any fear." 118 

On the other hand is the soul, opposed to the material 
world, and without its failings ; it is to the cultivation of this 
that the virtuous man will devote his attention. As the activ- 
ity of the soul is associated with that of the intelligence, care 
of the soul consists in developing the intellect, and the life of 
the soul is the intellectual life. " The perfect, veritable and 
real life is in the intelligence.' 7119 "A man has the perfect 
life when he possesses, in addition to the sensitive life, reason 
and veritable intelligence." 120 " Keduced to intelligence, the 
soul sees its beauty increase; in fact, its proper beauty is 
the intelligence with its ideas ; it is when it is united with the 
ne 1 4, 14. 

117 I 4, 11. 

118 I 4, 15. 
H9 14,3. 
120 I 4, 4. 


intelligence that the soul is really isolated from all the 
rest." 121 "Thus intelligence is ours, but in the sense that 
the soul is intelligent : for us, the intellectual life is a superior 
life. The soul enjoys this life when it thinks of intelligible 
beings, or when the intelligence is active in us. The in- 
telligence is at once a part of ourselves and a superior thing 
to which we raise ourselves." 122 We make use of this 
superior principle when we direct the medium part of our 
being either towards the superior world or the inferior 
world. 123 " Men triumph over evil by the aid of those facul- 
ties which are not engaged in matter." 124 It is this in- 
tellectual life which unites men to God. 125 

The man who has a care for his soul will therefore seek 
to lead the intellectual life ; the virtuous man is the one who 
does do so. The virtuous man or sage is recognizable, 
therefore, by two qualities: his serenity, which is the result 
of his not caring for external and transitory goods, and his 
contemplative life, by which he raises his soul to God. " The 
virtuous man is therefore always serene, calm, satisfied; if 
he is really virtuous, his state cannot be troubled by any 
of the things which we call evils." 126 This serenity is a 
good thing in itself, but its greatest value is that it makes 
possible the contemplative life. 

" It is necessary that the soul contemplate the Universal Soul ; 
now in order to raise itself to this contemplation, the soul must 
be worthy of it by its nobility, it must be emancipated from error 
and freed from the objects which fascinate the regard of vulgar 
souls, it must be plunged into a profound meditation and must 
calm not only the agitation of the body which envelops it and the 
tumult of the senses, but also everything which surrounds it. 

121 1 6, 6. 
122 1 2, 1. 

123 I 1, 11, 

124 I g, 5. 

mi, 2, 4; 8, 7; 4, 16; V 1, 6; 1, 11; etc. 
126 I 4, 12. 


Then may all be calm, the earth, the sea, the air and heaven 
itself." 127 

This contemplation is the highest activity which the soul 
can perform. " The good of the soul is to remain united to 
the intelligence to which it is sister; its evil is to abandon 
itself to contrary things. After having purified the soul, 
therefore, it is necessary to unite it to God: to unite it to 
God, it is necessary to turn it towards him. . . . The virtue 
of the soul does not consist in this conversion, but in what it 
obtains by this conversion. But what does it obtain? the 
intuition of the intelligible world." 128 When carried to its 
extreme, this contemplation results in ecstacy, and thus 
ecstacy is the highest good possible for man, for it is union 
with God. When this is achieved, every lower activity of 
the soul, and even thought itself disappears, for the soul is 
then united to something which is above thought; it has no 
movement or life or opinion or consciousness ; it is not even 
any longer a soul or a self, but a pure and motionless rest 
in God; it is raised above beauty and virtue and knowledge 
into a state of ecstacy, of resignation into the Eternal, which 
can only be compared to drunkenness or the insanity of 
love. 129 Thus the soul is united to the First Principle; God 
not only appears to it, but God and the soul are no longer 
two, but an inseparable unity; the soul becomes pure light, 
free from all heavy things, it becomes God, or rather, realizes 
that it is God. 130 This state is to be attained only by a 
renunciation of all things and prayer. " Let us first invoke 
God himself, not by pronouncing words, but by elevating our 
soul to him in prayer; now the only way to pray is to 
advance solitarily towards the One who is solitary. To con- 
template the One, it is necessary to withdraw into one's own 
conscience, as though into a temple, and to remain there 

i2?V 4, 12. 

128 I 2, 4. 

129V 3, 1; 8, 11; VI 7,35; 9, 10. 

iso VI 9, 10; V 8, 11; VI 7, 34-35; 9, 9-11. 


tranquil and in ecstacy." 131 Porphyry tells us that his 
master entered into this ecstacy four times during the six 
years of their acquaintance. 132 

The ascetic character of Plotinus's philosophy is already 
obvious. The end and aim which every man who does not 
wish to be called " vulgar " should hold before himself is to 
turn away from all the things of the world, to separate himself 
from all material things and especially from his body, and to 
seek union with the divine. His philosophy is permeated 
with a longing and striving after better things, after self- 
improvement, but these better things are not things of this 
world at all, and the criterion of self-improvement is de- 
tachment from the world. "Plotinus's moral system has a 
predominatingly negative character," said Zeller. 133 But in 
order to make the nature of this separation of soul and body, 
and of this striving for superior things, more clear, let us 
quote, in closing, a few more passages in which these subjects 
are dealt with more explicitly. 

" That which constitutes a man, and especially a virtuous man, 
is not the compound of soul and body; as is proven by the 
power which the soul has of separating itself from the body, and 
despising what are ordinarily called goods." 134 

" Evils cannot be abolished. Then how can one flee them ? It 
is not by changing place, says Plato, but by acquiring virtue and 
separating oneself from the body ; for that is also separating one- 
self from matter, since whatever is attached to the body is also 
attached to matter. Plato also explains what it is to be sep- 
arated from the body, or not to be separated from it, and finally 
what it is to be near the gods: it is to be united to intelligible 
objects, for it is to these objects that immortality belongs." 135 

isi v 1, 6. 

i32p rph. Vit. Plot. 23. For Plotinus's views in regard to this 
ecstacy, see Zeller, Philos. d. Griechen, III 2 } pp. 611-19; Drews, Plotin, 
pp. 271-90; for contemplation, Drews, pp. 269-71. 

133 Zeller, III 2, p. 599. 

135 I 8, 7. 


"Happiness is not found in the life of the vulgar. Plato is 
right in saying that one must quit the earth to rise to the Good, 
and that to become wise and happy, one must turn his regard 
towards the Good alone, seek to become like it and to lead a life 
in conformity with its. As a matter of fact, this should suffice 
to the wise man to attain his end; and he should no longer at- 
tach any value to other things, which are mere changes in space, 
and can add nothing to happiness." 136 

" The soul is evil, in so far as it is associated with the body and 
participates in its passions and opinions ; it becomes better, and 
enters into possession of virtue, only when, instead of following 
the body, it thinks by itself (which is true thought and consti- 
tutes prudence), when it ceases to share in its passions (which is 
temperance), when it does not fear being separated from the 
body (which is courage), and finally, when reason and intelli- 
gence command and are obeyed (which is justice). Without 
danger of deceiving ourselves, we may say that the condition of 
a soul thus regulated, a soul thinking of intelligible things and 
remaining calm, is what is really resemblance with God: for 
that which is pure is divine, and such is the nature of divine 
action that whatever initiates it already possesses wisdom." 137 

" What shall we make real temperance consist in, if not in re- 
fusing to attach oneself to the pleasures of the body, and in fleeing 
them as though they were impure and proper only for an impure 
being? Does not courage consist in not fearing death, which is 
nothing other than separation of soul and body ? Then how could 
he who wishes to isolate himself from the body fear death? 
Grandeur of soul is merely despising the things here below. 
Finally, real prudence is thought, which, being detached from 
earth, raises the soul to the intelligible world. A purified soul 
becomes a form, a reason, an incorporeal and intelligible essence ; 
it belongs wholly to the divinity, in whom is the source of the 
beautiful and all the qualities which have an affinity with it." 138 

"The soul separates itself from the body when, abandonning the 
various places where it was spread, it retires into itself; when it 

136 I 4, 16. 
13T I 2, 3. 
138 I 6, 6. 


becomes entirely foreign to the passions ; when it allows the body 
only those pleasures which are necessary, or adapted to cure it 
from its pains, to relieve it of its fatigues, or to prevent it from 
becoming importune ; when it becomes insensible to sufferings, or, 
if that is not within its power, when it supports them patiently 
and diminishes them by taking no part in them; when it ap- 
peases anger as much as possible ,and even supresses it entirely, 
if it can, but if it cannot, its does not participate in it at all, but 
leaves to the animal nature all thoughtless passions, while reduc- 
ing them and weaking them as much as possible; when it is 
absolutely immune from fear, having nothing more to be afraid 
of; when it suppresses every sudden movement, except the nat- 
ural warnings of approaching danger. Obviously the purified 
soul should desire nothing disgraceful: in eating and drinking, 
it will seek only the satisfaction of a need, while remaining a 
stranger to it ; no more will it seek out the pleasures of love, or if 
it does desire them, it will not go beyond that which nature de- 
mands, resisting every thoughtless passion, and not going beyond 
the involuntary impulses of the imagination. In a word, the soul 
will be pure of all these passions and will even wish to purify the 
irrational part of our being in such a way as to preserve it from 
emotions, or at least to diminish the number and intensity of 
these emotions, and to appease them by its presence." 139 

Such was the asceticism taught by Plotinus; it may be 
taken as the clearest expression of what was taught by the 
entire Neo-Platonic school. But it must not be thought that 
with Plotinus, Greek speculation came to an end; on the 
contrary, the Neo-Platonic school continued to exist for over 
two hundred years after his time. His own pupil Porphyry 
continued to teach Neo-Platonism and asceticism after him; 
Porphyry was succeeded by Jamblichus, who in his turn had 
many pupils. Finally, in the fifth century, came Proclus, 
the last of the Greek philosophers worthy of mention. The 
Neo-Platonic tradition continued down to the end of the 
Greek world, therefore, and was the last that the Greeks had 

139 I 2, 5. 


to say on the subject of philosophy though by no means the 
best. However, the followers of Plotinus added little that 
was new to his system: the fundamental propositions of the 
intelligible and sensible worlds, the dual nature of man, and 
the desirability of devoting all one's efforts to striving towards 
the intelligible world, were retained, and continued to be the 
guiding principles of the philosophy. Nevertheless, after 
Plotinus, the expressions of this philosophy became ever 
weaker and more chaotic and confused, and more and more 
mingled with superstitions and non-Greek elements. The 
leaders of the school came from all parts of the world and 
were not Greeks by blood at all, which fact reacted visibly 
upon their thought ; in the first chapter of the present study 
we saw also that the revival of primitive Greek superstitions 
at this time was so great that Miss Harrison has been able to 
quote Porphyry and Jamblichus to illustrate ideas which 
she found behind the very early rites of the Greeks. The 
subsequent development of Neo-Platonism was merely a de- 
generation and a watering-out of the thought of Plotinus. In 
the later period, too, ^Teo-Platonism took on more and more a 
distinctly religious coloring; this was particularly the case 
after Jamblichus. 140 In the course of this development, 
asceticism came to receive a constantly increasing attention 
from the followers of the school: a little must therefore be 
said in closing in regard to the nature of this ascetical thought. 
Porphyry continued to teach the radical dualism of soul 
and body which his master had taught, and continued the 
teaching that the soul was what united one to God: omne 
corpus esse fugiendum, ui anima possit beaia permanere cum 
Deo, he is reported to have said. 141 Love of God and love 
of body are two incompatible things; 142 fondness for one 

, III 2, p. 714: "Der Neuplatonismus durch ihn zuerst ganz 
entschieden in den Dienst der Eeligion trat, und aus einer philosophischen 
Lehre zu einer theologischen Doctrin wurde. Das gleiche bestatigt aber 
auch die Geschichte seiner Schule, so weit sie uns bekannt ist." 

141 Augustine, Civ. Dei, X 29. 

142 ad Marc. 14. 



necessarily excludes desire for the goods of the other ; he who 
seeks higher things must renounce the pleasures of the body 
and the desire for them, and by philosophical endeavours 
loosen the band by which the soul is chained to the body. 143 
All sensuous pleasures are to be resolutely repressed; even 
moderate sexual indulgence is forbidden, 144 as are the theater, 
dancing, horse-races, and the like. 145 Especial emphasis is 
laid upon abstinence from flesh food, to which subject he 
devoted a whole treatise ; it would be a good thing, he thinks, 
if we could do without any food at all, but since we must 
have it, we should take only that which is simplest and most 
innocent; 146 asceticism must be expressed not only by a 
mental withdrawal from worldly interests, but also by ex- 
ternal acts which chastise the body. For the body is at 
best merely a garment of the soul, which one should lay aside 
if he is to win the victor's crown; it is not only base, a 
hindrance to him, and irreconcilable with higher aspirations, 
but it is also positively injurious, polluting one through the 
demons which adhere to it. 147 Thus pollution again appears 
in an important role in Greek thought; as a matter of fact, 
purifying virtues (icaOapTiicai) are second in Porphyry's hier- 
archy of virtues. First are political virtues ; then the purify- 
ing virtues by which advance is made, which consist in freeing 
oneself from earthly things, and which end in apathy ; third 
comes the positive corollary of these virtues, namely, the 
raising of the -soul to God; and finally are the "paradig- 
matic " virtues, those of the vovs itself. 148 Though purifying- 
virtue is not the highest, it is, nevertheless, according to 
Porphyry, the one most essential for men, for it is neces- 
sarily preliminary to all the others, and their foundation. 149 

i de Abst. I 33. 

144 <z e Abst. IV 20; Sent. 34. 

145 de Abst. I 33 

146 de Abst. IV 20. 

147 de Abst. I 31; II 46. 

148 Sent. 34. 

149 Sent. 34. 


Thus asceticism, world-denial and world-flight become the 
essential elements of a moral life. 

Asceticism holds an equally important place in the system 
of Jamblichus. Like the other ISTeo-Platonists, he held to 
the dualism of the intelligible and sensible worlds, located 
the soul midway betwen the two, and spoke of methods of 
"purification" by which it might rise to the higher. Just 
as the soul might rise to the rank of the angels, it might also 
fall to the place of demons; in fact, the body is once more 
taught to be the outward and visible sign of the fact that the 
soul has fallen from a former loftier abode. But Jamblichus 
added nothing new; his ethical system is merely a popular 
philosophy in the spirit of his school. 150 

Thus Greek philosophy gradually faded away. As time 
went on, Greek thought became vaguer and vaguer, and more 
and more childish and superstitious, and cared less and less 
for the world of the senses, giving all its attention to the 
intelligible world and denouncing such things as marrying 
and giving in marriage or even eating and drinking, until, 
like the grasshoppers in Plato's fable quoted above, it " forgot 
and died, and went to the Muses in heaven." But before it 
passed away, most of it that was of value had been assimilated 
by the Christians. After the third century, the intellectual 
leadership of the Greek world was in their hands ; they then 
took over all that Hellas had to give which was good; but 
after that time, Hellas contributed nothing new. With Neo- 
Platonism, therefore, the field which we marked out for our 
study has been covered. 

isoZeller, III 2, p. 712: "Im iibrigen enthalten die zahlreichen Ueber- 
bleibsel seiner ethischen Abhandlungen (in Strobaus' Florilegium) kaum 
etwas anders, als eine popularphilosophische Moral im Geist seiner 


In the preceding pages, the gradual development of Greek 
ascetical thought has been traced from the early rites of puri- 
fication through abstinence, up to Platonic and Neo-Platonic 
idealism. The existence of these primitive rites in early 
Greece has been established ; it has been shown how the Or- 
phics, in pre-Socratic times, while attempting to interpret 
these rites, developed theories in regard to a dual world, 
marked respectively by body and soul, taught the infinite su- 
periority of the latter, and urged men to chastise their sinful 
bodies for the good of their souls ; Plato accepted this dual- 
istic theory, and made it the basis of his philosophy. Thus, 
the fundamental view of the world which is at the bottom of 
Greek (and Christian) asceticism was clearly stated by the 
time of Plato; his successors had nothing to add to this. 
Nevertheless, the development of asceticism during the age 
following Plato was enormous. It has been shown how, be- 
ginning in the first century B.C., a wave of asceticism swept 
over the whole Greek world, which became more and more 
powerful as time went on. World-flight and other-worldli- 
ness were the characteristic features of the thought of decay- 
ing Greece ; they were one of the important contributions of 
Hellas to Christianity. This has been shown, but before the 
present study is brought to a close, a few general remarks 
bearing upon the transference of this asceticism into Chris- 
tianity must be made. 

In the first place, it should be pointed out that this study 
of Greek asceticism has further illustrated the truth of the 
remark already made by others that asceticism is not the rela- 
tively rare phenomenon which some have imagined it, but 
that on the contrary, it is an essential element of every reli- 



gion. 1 According to the classic views of Greek life, the 
Greek religion, if any, should have been free from such tend- 
encies, but it has been shown that even here, asceticism played 
a considerable role. Of course, these tendencies varied in 
intensity at different times, but they were never wholly lack- 
ing. The explanation of this fact is to be found in the nature 
and function of religion itself. Every society has certain 
collective ideas and ideals in regard to life and the world 
upon which its whole social superstructure is built, and which 
are its characterizing feature ; if these ideals lose the support 
of men, the society itself will perish. It is the function of 
religion to inspire men with these ideals. Now, these ideals 
always require that a man should not devote his entire atten- 
tion to his own material gain, but should have some regard 
for other things of a more distinctly social nature ; these are 
called "higher" things things such as truth, justice, or the 
glory of God, to cite a few common examples. If religion is 
successful in its function, then, it will lead men to forsake 
their material gain sometimes for these higher things, and a 
very common method for teaching them to do this is to insist 
upon the lesser value of these material gains. It is inevita- 
ble, moreover, that in every society some persons will exag- 
gerate this teaching and thus become ascetics. It is for this 
reason that asceticism is to be found in all known religions. 
In the case of Christianity, it existed to a certain extent from 
the very start, but during the early centuries these initial 
germs were developed to an enormous degree. It is in this 
that Hellenic influence is observable, for at first the asceti- 
cism was largely of Jewish or Gnostic origin. 

In the second place, a few words must be said upon the 
determining causes of the development of asceticism. Little 
attention has been devoted to this problem in the preceding 
pages, for an effort has been made to limit the discussion to 

i Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, pp. 316ff. 
(Eng. tr.). 


the question of what Hellenic asceticism was, not why it was ; 
nevertheless a few words have necessarily been devoted to this 
second question as well. It has been shown that asceticism 
seems to increase as social and economic conditions in the 
world grow worse. When the world is no longer able to 
please men, and they are dissatisfied with it, they frequently 
turn to asceticism. In every social state there will be some 
persons who do this, but in evil days, these people will be par- 
ticularly numerous : as a society fails and fades away, asceti- 
cism will become more noticeable. Asceticism has thus been 
spoken of as an " old man's philosophy," and such it is to an 
eminent, though not to an exclusive degree. The reason for 
this fact is obvious: the decay of society is attributed to a 
falling away from the old ideals, so many persons try to save 
the situation by making unusual efforts to remain true to 
them. Thus the decadent Athens of the fourth century pro- 
duced Plato, who eloquently urged a return to the old ideals, 
even at the expense of the body. This same Athens produced 
the Cynics, who differed greatly from Plato both in the spirit 
and the letter of their teaching, but who agreed with him that 
higher things should be sought at the expense of the body. 
Inversely, we find that during the prosperous period follow- 
ing the conquests of Alexander, asceticism was reduced to a 
minimum. But social conditions in the Roman Empire, and 
particularly in the eastern part of it, were especially well 
adapted to the production of ascetic ideals, and the result was 
the great ascetic movement described in the last three chap- 
ters. In spite of the many blessings brought by the Romans 
in the form of stable government and the like, society was 
rushing to ruin. Though it was by no means the only one, 
still it cannot be denied that one of the causes of this decay 
was the sensual indulgence of the people ; they no longer re- 
mained true to their old ideals, nor did they find newer or 
better ones. It became obvious that if society was to con- 
tinue to exist, men would have to care less for their bodily 


pleasures and more for ideal things. Hence came the rise of 
asceticism. ~Now it was into this world that Christianity, 
with many other new religions, entered, bringing a message 
of redemption ; but the only form of redemption then possible 
was through an ascetic idealism. It was only because it pre- 
sented just such an asceticism that Christianity was able to 
save civilization. 

It therefore seems as though Christianity had been predes- 
tined to an ascetic character ; not only did it need to have that 
quota of asceticism which is common to all religions, but also 
the unusually strenuous asceticism demanded by the world 
which it entered. It is certain that the early Christians, in 
adapting their religion to the needs of their age, did give it 
such a nature. But what were the sources from which they 
derived their ascetic ideals? The present study has at- 
tempted to present some of them, though not by any means 
all of them. How did the early Christians draw upon these 
sources ? This is a question for another study, and is beyond 
the range of the present one. What we have attempted to do 
is to present some of these sources the ascetic features of 
the Greek world which Christianity entered and thus pre- 
pare the way for a study of this larger question. 



I, Joseph Ward Swain, was born at Yankton, South Da- 
kota, on December 16, 1891, the eldest son of Henry Hunt- 
ington and Myra (Olmstead) Swain. I spent my childhood 
and youth, and received my early education in Dillon, Mon- 
tana. After spending two years in Beloit College, at Beloit, 
Wisconsin, I entered Columbia College as a junior in 1910. 
I received the A.B. degree from Columbia in 1912, and at 
that time was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa society. I was 
awarded the Chanler Historical Prize for an essay on " Cal- 
houn and the Annexation of Texas." The following year I 
spent in graduate study at Harvard University, from which 
institution I received the degree of A.M. in 1913. From 
1913 to 1915 I was in Europe, studying especially at the 
University of Paris, but also carrying on private studies at 
Leipzig and London. During both winters I was regularly 
enrolled at the " Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Section 
des Sciences Religieuses," at the University of Paris ; at the 
end of the first year I was promoted to the grade of "eleve 
titulaire," and at the end of the second I presented a disserta- 
tion entitled "Hebrew and Early Christian Asceticism." 
Owing to the turmoils of war, the faculty have not yet passed 
upon this dissertation, but in case it is accepted, I shall receive 
the grade of "eleve diplome" of the section. The year 
1915-16 I spent in graduate study at Columbia. I have 
translated into English the work of Professor Emile Durk- 
heim, of Paris, entitled " The Elementary Forms of the Reli- 
gious Life " (London : George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. ; New 
York: The Macmillan Company, 1915, pp. xi-f-456). 


Return to desk from which borrowed. 
This book is DUE on the last date stamped below. 




This book is due on the last date stamped below, or 



on the date to which renewed. - 

Renewed books are subject to immediate recall. 1 U 1961 ' 

JL 2 9 1969 5 ft 


General Library 

University of California